NEW DELHI, June 23: India�s Test batting mainstay Cheteshwar Pujara personifies mental toughness and dogged determination in the middle and he says those very traits helped him beat the �lockdown blues� amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rajkot-based cricketer got back to training at the nets this week, three months after helping Saurashtra win their maiden Ranji Trophy title.
Though coronavirus cases continue to rise rapidly in India and uncertainty remains around resumption of professional cricket, Pujara said he hit the nets at just the right time.
�You have to start at some point and it is important. If you are going to the ground, you are getting used to the sun and outdoor environment. Most players have been indoors for such a long time,� Pujara told PTI in an interview.
�Initially it is just about feeling the ball and as it is, there is plenty of time before cricket starts. I don�t see any series happening for the next two-three months, so one has to take things gradually.�
Pujara said his mental fortitude helped him immensely while he was confined to his house.
�If you are mentally tough, you can take a long break comfortably. Test matches don�t happen frequently so one has to play domestic cricket. It was not such a big thing for me and to come back from it, I will be fresh and more eager to play. The mental challenge is not an issue for me,� he asserted.
Pujara, who is training at his academy with some of his Saurashtra team-mates, will be gradually increasing the intensity of the net sessions. For now, he is batting for 20-25 minutes thrice a week.
�Once you are outdoors it is a different feeling altogether. Training here is obviously not the same as you get in a team environment but at least you are doing something to get yourself going.
�Your body will start moving a bit once you have a routine. As a cricketer, it is important to start whenever possible and adhere to the government guidelines (on social distancing) at the same time.�
Pujara, like the rest of his India team-mates, kept up with a customised fitness regime at home during the lockdown.
Cricketers are not used to a break this long and are vulnerable to mental health issues but for Pujara, the phase was not dark at all.
After all, he has experienced darker moments in his career, most recently in 2011 when a knee injury kept him out of the game for close to six months.
�Getting back from an injury is much tougher than this. When I was injured in the past (2008 and 2011), I resumed training after a long time, longer than this, but lockdown was different. I was still active when I was indoors (with the fitness routine).
�Obviously, it feels a little different when you are holding a bat after a long time but because I worked on my fitness, it is helping now that I am playing again.�
Did he ever think that he would lose his edge staying away from the game for that long?
�Every cricketer deals with situations differently. Mentally, some people do get frustrated but I just took it as a break.� � PTI