The First Sportsperson I Wanted to Be

Cheteshwar Pujara: 'Rahul Dravid taught me there is life beyond cricket'

The India No. 3 talks about growing up idolising perhaps the greatest No. 3 India have ever had

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Pujara (second from right) learned not just technique and temperament from Dravid (second from left) but also life lessons at large

Pujara (second from right) learned not just technique and temperament from Dravid (second from left) but also life lessons at large © AP Photo

In the first instalment of a new series where cricketers talk about the first sportsperson they wanted to be: Cheteshwar Pujara on Rahul Dravid

I must have been eight years old when I saw Rahul bhai bat for the first time. I watched him bat on India's tour of England in 2002, and then that double-century in Adelaide, which remains my favourite innings of his.

I think I became a serious fan of him when I was around 13 years old. The thing that stood out for me was that he put a price on his wicket. He was a fighter - as long as Rahul bhai was the crease, it was very difficult for the opposition to take wickets. As a spectator you felt comfortable that India would not collapse; as long as he was at the crease, we would put up a reasonable total. To bowl India out, you had to get him out as the opposition. He provided that solidity.

I observed his technique and temperament closely. The way he spoke about the game, he had a lot of knowledge, but he always kept his game simple and did not complicate things too much.

By coincidence, both of us have used the same kit - from SG. I never used the same bat as him, though, but I always wanted the "Dazzler" batting gloves he used, that SG made. I really liked the design, and when I signed with SG for the first time, I asked them for those gloves.

Despite my enchantment with him, I did not copy him. There is a similarity in our games, but that's not because of my fascination with him. That came mainly through my experiences with Saurashtra, where I learned that scoring a hundred alone isn't enough, you have to carry your team. That is how I learned responsibility - it is about helping my team to raise a big total, and for that I ought to attach importance to my wicket. I learned that from my junior cricket days with Saurashtra, which was a weaker team in domestic cricket.

Yes, you could say that I subconsciously imbibed that from Rahul bhai. His influence had shaped my thought process.

Meeting your idol is always special. I remember meeting Rahul bhai for the first time around 2006 or 2007. It was the Race Course ground in my home town, Rajkot. India were preparing for some series. I remember someone introduced me to him, and I think he had heard my name already: I had just played for India Under-19 and the Deodhar Trophy, and had scored some runs in the Ranji Trophy. I think he was a little busy at the time, but he said that I could always chat to him whenever I came to Bangalore to the National Cricket Academy.

As it happened, I made my India debut in Bangalore, in the second Test of the Australia series in 2010, which we won. It was a memorable few days for me, especially the 72 I made in the second innings that contributed to the win.

The best part about Rahul bhai has been that he understands a player's psychology. I was lucky that I had him around when I started playing cricket. He had already gone through so many things in his journey, so he was able to tell me what I could expect, in a way.

He helped me understand when I was young that it is not all about technique. As a young cricketer you might want to focus on technique a lot, but eventually I realised - yes, you need technique, but there are other aspects as well.

There is one other thing I will be thankful to him for. He helped me understand the importance of switching off from cricket. I had the same thought, more or less, but when I spoke to him, it gave me a lot of clarity about it and I was sure of what I needed to do. I also saw in county cricket how they keep personal and professional lives separate. I value that advice a lot. Many people consider me to be focused. Yes, I am focused, But I also know when to switch off. There is life beyond cricket.

I cannot say in one line what Rahul bhai means to me. He has always been an inspiration, and will remain one.

Cheteshwar Pujara has played over 75 Tests over India since 2010

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo