While the cricketing world was hailing Cheteshwar Pujara as the poster boy of Test cricket, tweeting about his innings of 193, celebrating the 1258 deliveries he has faced in this series, shaking their heads in disbelief about those 28 plus batting hours in 4 Tests; his wife Puja was discussing the discharge summary details of his father Arvind with doctors.
A day before, on Thursday, when India’s No.3 was closing in on his third hundred of the tour at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the two were in a cab from Mumbai’s domestic terminal headed to the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra. Arvind’s abnormally high heart rate had seen the two fly out of Rajkot for a planned cardiac procedure, as advised by Mumbai-based specialist Dr Yash Lokhandwala.
The 68-year-old former first-class player, Cheteshwar’s only coach since the time he was barely seven, missed watching his son’s – and one of Indian cricket’s – most significant inning. His first two hundreds had set the platform for India’s Test wins at Adelaide and Melbourne; now at Sydney as he walked back to the pavilion just 7 short of a double hundred after facing 373 balls, Australia seemed to have been batted out of the game. Leading 2-1 in the series, Cheteshwar had put India on the brink of their first ever series win in Australia.
From his hospital bed, Arvind sounds relieved about the procedure – cardiac catheterisation to regularize the heart’s rhythm – but he is more keen to talk about his son’s batting. “I have been hearing people praise my son from across the world. It’s very heartening, if anybody had any doubt about his batting it’s all cleared. I will go home watch the replays,” he says.
Having seen most of Cheteshwar’s tons from the stands, Puja talks about the experience of being on the road for this one. “On Day 1 of the Test we had watched him grind it out in the first session at our home at Rajkot. After that we had a flight to catch, once we landed we came to know that he was approaching his 100. That’s when he was smashing the balls and hitting fours. That bit we followed on my phone,” says the young mother who gave the Australia tour a miss to avoid long flights with their infant daughter.
At the start of the ongoing Test, Cheteshwar was aware that his father had to undergo surgery. Anchoring the innings, playing time one more time in the final Test of the series, wasn’t the only thing on his mind when he stepped out to bat at SCG. “Our doctor had called him and told him that it wasn’t wise to delay the procedure. They had a long chat, and once he was convinced we went ahead,” says the father.
Dr Nirbhay Shah, the Pujaras’ family friend, talks about those tense days in December when Arvind’s pulse rate would race to 200. “He had two episodes of severe rise in heart rate. Once while Cheteshwar was here and once again while he was in Australia. Initially, we did not inform him as he was playing at Melbourne. We informed him after the match and took his consent for surgery,” he says. “His century today was under the cloud of his dad and coach being subjected to surgery. His focus never wavered and his work ethic did not suffer.”
For Puja too it was tough. She had left her 10-month daughter with her mother and while in hospital with her father-in-law she had one eye on Sydney. “Yes, these were the toughest days of my life. Cheteshwar had been constantly in touch with us. After Day 1, he called to check about the procedure.” It was the same on Friday. The father informs about the chat the two had after stumps. It’s an old ritual the son and father have followed since Cheteshwar’s junior days. Back in the day, it used to be about technique, strokes and a post-mortem about the days play. Over the years, it changed. On Friday, as Arvind says, it was just about hearing each other’s voice.