1094 runs and five centuries in eight games spoke for itself. Sussex head coach Paul Farbrace has a lot to add, but first, a confession. I tried to sign him to Warwickshire a few years ago – three years I think – we signed him for the first 10 games of the season and then they took him to play in the IPL. It was a disappointment, he tells The Indian Express. However, his last job allowed him to work with what he calls the most unpretentious and very talented overseas player in the world.
If you can’t find common ground with Puj, you’re going to have a tough time. He’s a dream to work with. For someone who has achieved what he has achieved in the game, working with our locker room — with our club as a whole — has been absolutely outstanding. After spending 100 games in Tests, you’d never think this guy was an Indian batting legend because that’s just who he is, a very likable person.
It’s a long tradition. An alliance of great Indian batters and Sussex. Kumar Sri Ranjitsinhji, called the father of Indian cricket, created his legend at a club where he scored a staggering 58 hundreds and was captain for five years. In the 1920s, teammate Gilbert Jessop described the regal batter firsthand as a man who emptied the stores in Brighton if he walked through the streets.
It was at Sussex that Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi first came to his attention-his debut for the club at 16-and he went on to play 88 games from 1957 to 1970, becoming the youngest captain of the Indian national team during the Test period.
He may have played only 12 matches for Sussex, but Pujara’s association with the club is already strong. Sussex loves him, and he loves them back. There is one story in the locker room that Farbrace says shows his attitude and support for the club. When Steve (Smith) arrived, Pudge was obviously the captain, and I told him: As for the order of play, since Steve is only here for three games, we’ll play him in the five. We’ve got Tom Alsop in the three. Pudge plays fourth and Steve plays fifth. He said: Absolutely, that’s right for Tom. From my point of view — for a world championship test — I’d rather play in the three, but I think it’s better if we keep Tom there.
Sense of gratitude
There is a sense of appreciation after the events of Pujara’s first year at Sussex: If you look at last season, I was off the Indian team. I needed the points,to come back. I went there without a suitable platform. Scored a few runs. There’s nothing like playing for India, but Sussex gave me that opportunity, and I’ll never forget it, he told reporters on his first day of work this year.
For a man who has played in 102 of India’s 128 games since his debut, being excluded from the national team would have been a bitter pill to swallow last year. Especially in a home series. Especially for Pujara. Less than a year ago, he put his body on the line during India’s second consecutive Test series win in Australia. Only his second win in Australia. All those meaty strokes. All those spells were coordinated. Nearly a thousand pitches in both rounds that confounded Australia’s sharpest attacks and took away their advantage. Series appearances that were commensurate with great careers, but were no longer enough to take their place in the Indiana locker room. After a year and two seasons at Sussex, his reputation as a major Indiana resource to knock them out of the game was restored before the World Test finals against Australia.
That’s an advantage. Three more centuries to his Sussex score in four games this year. But time at England’s oldest of 18 first-class clubs has renewed Pujara’s brand on the field as much as it has off it.
A club captain has to be in his place. One day at the newly opened Sussex Cricketer pub near Hove, he spent the day with his teammates. At another, at the opening of a new multi-faith hall at the stadium, along with local leaders from the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim communities.
Sussex, compared to some other clubs, is a smaller club. It has a family atmosphere. There’s a lot of community work going on at Sussex, Farbrace explains. There’s a lot of South Asians living in Sussex’s Crawley area, for example, and there’s a lot of work being done to provide cricket facilities. Pooj is useful for us, not just on the field but off it, because he’s a great role model. I’ve asked him to get involved in a few things, and it’s never been a question of: Should I? It was a question of: At what time do you need me?
What does the Australian expression mean? It just beats and beats and beats. That’s not all there is to it. The iconic 7,000-plus-point Indian White figure has achieved the status of a tight-knit community hero. Cricket Ground.county in Hove has a capacity of barely 6,000 people. One of them manages to pick up a skipper for selfies after one of the matches. At a cricket match with my best friend, she captioned the photo on Twitter.
There are plenty of other people who got lucky, even at away matches. We played Leicester a few weeks ago, and there were a lot of Indian fans at the game, and he spent time taking pictures with them, chatting with them. He was very approachable. He says yes to everything, acknowledging that he’s in a very fortunate position – playing cricket for India – and when you talk to him about his aspirations after the cricket game, he’s very aware of how lucky he is, but also understands that you have to help others. No wonder people really like him in county cricket. He’s such an open book, and he’s easy to get along with, says the head coach.
Sussex batting coach and former Zimbabwe player Grant Flower adds: He always has time for other people, which is quite in keeping with his personality. You can see it on the bus when he travels, he’s involved. Card games, jokes. Like his hours on the beat, there’s something special about it.Pujara in Sussex is so simple and human.
The big picture
Mohammad Rizwan recalls an exchange with his Indian teammate at Sussex last season. He told me a few things, and one of them was to play close to the body. And as everyone knows, we’ve been playing white-ball cricket all the time in the last few years and playing a little bit away from the body, the Pakistani keeper-batsman said of his conversation with Pujara at Sussex.
With the white ball, you don’t play very close to the body because the ball doesn’t swing or curl as much. So at the beginning of the game, I played away from my body and hit two outs like that. Then I came up to him in the nets and I remember him saying that when we play in Asia, we make the ball play into the drive. Here we don’t have to do that. And we need to play close to the body, he added.
It also has to do with the transition between formats. For someone who plays all three formats, it would take Rizwan a while to acclimate to the aforementioned. Allowing the ball to come to him rather than approaching him. The speed of the bat would also have to be reduced. For Pujara, this is bread and butter. Hence the healthy exchange of information and information. Stories like this can often be heard during IPL season. For Pujara.fishes are the usual routine at the county championship.
When players want to talk to him – both our players and opposing players – he’s always available, Farbrace says, before adding an important detail: He’ll show you the path to success, why he was successful, but he doesn’t ram it down people’s throats. If you want to be successful, that’s how you have to do it. He’s just living a life that says: If you want to be successful, this is how you have to do it.
When Steve Smith joined Sussex this season, Pujara shared his wishes for the season: To try to talk to him and learn from him, just to see how he prepares, because he has a lot of experience and to get information from him about captaincy. The Australian replied: I want to play with Puj too, and also hope to spend some time together at the center and learn a little bit more about each other. And that’s despite the fact that the WTC finals, in which these two will play on opposite ends, are just days away.
County cricket has been that safe haven for the exchange of wisdom between overseas players for quite some time. With more and more players becoming format-oriented, three or four months of shared cricket can contribute not only to the individual but also to the overall quality of modern Test cricket, which has found new life thanks to the Test World Cup.
The current Sussex players are taking the course themselves. It has been very influential on Tom Haines, Ali Orr, Tom Clarke, among others. They have the opportunity to play with him regularly. The learning you get from playing with someone like Puj at the center is worth years and years of practice, Farbrace shares. Not only our batters, but our bowlers benefit as well. He talks to them about how to bowl properly, how to bring out good players. He thinks about how others want to get him out, and shares with them how people can get others out.
This was a department that Captain Pujara paid particular attention to at the beginning of the 2023 county campaign. We need to believe we can take 20 wickets, he said. India’s number three knows how to do that. He has seen it done first-hand. Be it the fast and sprawling version with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami or the slow and spinning version with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
He always talks pretty attacking, adds batting coach Flauers. As for thinking about how the game has changed with the advent of T20 cricket, etc. He is always very positive with the guys. We are now second in the championship and playing very positive cricket. It may have reflected (on the players), and I hope so. The guys liked having him around and they’re looking forward to next season.
Pujara’s answer when asked about his main goal for this championship season was also positive-even, one might say, attacking. ‘To come out on top. Sussex will love him for that, as he loves them back.