The story of the Pujaras in Saurashtra cricket is a remarkable one. They have been part of the Kutch folklore for more than half a century. The youngest of the them, Cheteshwar, has surpassed all his family members, that includes grandfather Shivlal, father Arvind and uncle Bipin.

Thanks to the media attention he has received following his exceptional performances and special knocks, the 24-year-old has been lavished with love and affection by the followers of the game in this place.

Evidence of it was seen at the outskirts of Rajkot on Saturday and Sunday where youngsters blew whistles, clapped hard and shouted and eventually gave a standing ovation following his classic knock of an unbeaten 158 against India ‘A’ and 128 not out against Bengal in the Challenger Trophy for the N.K.P. Salve Trophy.

Father Arvind was at the Khanderi-village venue on both days. He did not feel comfortable watching the match from the VIP gallery and hence shifted to the public stands just to feel the excitement. He has been the point man for many sports journalists ever since his son Cheteshwar began to dominate the bowlers at Rajkot’s first venue at the Race Course and thereafter at Khanderi.

Steady rise

Cheteshwar’s rise has been steady; he’s one of the many who has come through the system, playing in the Vijay Merchant, Cooch Behar, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad and Col. C.K. Nayudu tournaments for juniors and the ICC under-19 World Cup before making the big cut in the Ranji Trophy.

Cricket has been a serious vocation for Cheteshwar, more so after the death of his mother and those who have followed him are not a bit surprised by his calm and composed approach and attitude in Tests. Recently he scored a century against New Zealand at Bangalore. He has been part and parcel of Saurashtra campaigns.

Arvind, 62, has seen every step Cheteshwar has taken towards stardom. “I have seen my father (Shivlal) in whites and play cricket. But I was six years old, reluctant and even crying when he used to drag me to the Dhrangadhra Chemical ground in Surendranagar. My father used to play with Nyalchand Shah (who played on jute matting against Pakistan at Lucknow in 1952-53) and also travelled to Bombay for inter-Insurance matches. I did not know anything, so I cannot comment on my father’s cricket. But he was very much alive when Cheteshwar scored 306 not out against Baroda in a West Zone under-14 tournament. Kiran More used to keep him informed of the happenings at the Moti Bagh ground,’’ said Arvind, who played six Ranji Trophy matches and scored 172 runs.

His debut was against Bombay team that had Sunil Gavaskar, Ramnath Parkar, Ashok Mankad, Eknath Solkar, Sandeep Patil and Karsan Ghavri. Bombay was shot out for 79 in the first innings, but it still won the match by 163 runs. Arvind, who retired from Western Railway, had kept wicket once and effected a stumping; his son too has the same record as a wicket-keeper.

Uncle Bipin who is employed with Bank of India, was a right-hand batsman and wicket-keeper (36 matches, 1631 runs, 2x100, 12x50) and he played in the 80s and 90s and had opportunities to play against Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Kiran More.

Cheteshwar entered the scene 12 years ago in the Vijay Merchant Trophy match against Baroda and since then has been in the hectic world of Indian cricket.

Secret of success

But what has been the secret of his success. “I have known him since childhood. He’s dedicated to the game and disciplined in life. He has the inner strength to deal with injuries and that is the reason he has been able to cope with injuries. Physical and mental strengths are valuable virtues and he has them,” said Arjun Singh Rana, Saurashtra team physio for many years.

The first of the Pujaras held the willow during the British rule and several decades after India’s independence, Cheteshwar has shown the promise to live up to the reputation.

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