Whenever Cheteshwar Pujara is on India duty, a set of budding cricketers on the outskirts of Rajkot religiously keep of a tab on how their hero is performing. These young cricketers are fans of Pujara not because they hail from the same city.
In these days of fat pay cheques from IPL, Pujara could have chosen a posh flat, or a foreign-make car, or a large farm house. Instead, he has invested in six acres of land in Rajkot and built cricket pitches on it in an effort to help these young cricket talents — 30 at this point in time — in the region.
It’s his cricket-loving father’s dream that the son is trying to fulfil. The Pujaras don’t take a single paisa as fee from the kids.
Just five kilometres away from the main stadium of the Saurashtra Cricket Association, a small lane forks into a village where Arvind Pujara and his son have been trying to unearth and hone talent.
Most of trainees are poor, and Pujara has also found a way to ferry them from their home. A van goes around picking-up the kids from in and around Rajkot and dropping them at the ground.
“Rajkot doesn’t have any ground where children can practice regularly. In Mumbai, you have Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan where proper good-quality nets take place. I was lucky that Railway gave us one pitch to practice but that is not available anymore. Someone has to provide them the basic facilities otherwise, how will they grow as cricketers?” Pujara says.
There is a small gym, a make-shift dressing room, a bowling machine which runs on battery, and a roller machine purchased a few months back. A bathroom, a small rest room are still under construction. There are six pitches laid for practice and the ground is bigger than your average stadium in many a city.
“I was lucky that I have my father who looked after me and my cricket but there are many here who just can’t afford this sport. I remember one evening after the IPL, my dad told me to lets have a big ground where we can train and train others too. I just couldn’t say no to it,” Cheteshwar explains. Most of his boys can’t afford cricketing gear and so Pujara has given them his training jerseys, or shoes.
Pujara had brought a small plot near his residence few years ago for practice sessions but the plot was only meant for batting or bowling. “One needs match practice and that is how I developed my game. I travelled to Mumbai often to play practice games. The only time these boys play matches is when some district tournament happens. I know people might think that I have taken a gamble by having a full-fledged ground but god has given me so much. However, it takes lot of money to maintain this ground but things will be fine (financially) till the time I am playing for India. But sooner or later we will have to look out for sponsors,” the Test No.3 adds.
His father Arvind believes the money invested by them in trying to unearth the next Pujara will be worth it.
“Woh paisey ka fayada he kya, joh kisey ke kaam na aaye. (What’s the use of the money which doesn’t do good to anyone?) If this ground manages to produce international cricketers, our dream will be achieved.”
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