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Cheteshwar Pujara's 49-minute meditation

Cheteshwar Pujara having a banana during a practice session Ekana Cricket Media/ Randhir Dev

A meditation instructor once told me the most difficult thing in the world is to do nothing at all. Later, I came to know it was actually a quote from Oscar Wilde, but that did drive his point home: meditation is essentially achieving a state where one is not thinking about anything.

"I don't have any thoughts when I am batting," Cheteshwar Pujara told Fox Cricket after his 193 against Australia in Sydney earlier this month. "For me, batting is like meditation. I try and keep my mind blank. If you have any thoughts in the middle, then you can't concentrate for long periods."

At the end of the series, Pujara said he would be playing first-class cricket after going back home.

***

Monday, January 14, Ekana International Stadium, Lucknow.

11.30am

Saurashtra are practising ahead of their Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh, but Pujara is nowhere to be seen. It's learnt that his flight from Delhi is delayed.

One hour has passed and there are murmurs that he may not turn up for training.

12.45pm

Someone appears near the boundary. At the pavilion end. In jeans and a striped t-shirt. Dragging a suitcase. Beaming. Smiling ear to ear. Looking so fresh he could have come out of a spa. It's Pujara.

He waves excitedly to his team-mates who are practising in the middle. They wave back. And then Pujara disappears again.

12.56pm

He appears again. This time in his training gear. T-shirt, shorts, spikes. A bit of warm-up. A banana. And he's ready. He takes throwdowns before batting in the nets. The journalists at the ground are talking this up as Pujara vs UP. "We want his wicket, we'll go all out for it," UP coach Mansur Ali Khan says.

***

On Tuesday, UP captain Akshdeep Nath opts to bat. The day belongs to Rinku Singh, who counter-attacks to make 150 off 181 balls.

On the second morning, UP's lower order frustrates Saurashtra for almost an hour before the visitors bat. In the 11th over of Saurashtra's innings, Ankit Rajpoot breaks through to remove Snell Patel.

A fair sprinkling of spectators stand up in anticipation of Pujara walking out. The official photographer has been instructed to capture his every step to the crease. On video.

But it isn't Pujara who walks out. It's Vishvaraj Jadeja, who has occupied the No. 3 spot in Pujara's absence this season, scoring 282 runs in three innings at 56.40. Vishvaraj lasts only one ball, though, nicking Rajpoot behind and leaving Saurashtra 35 for 2.

There's anticipation again. And here comes the moment everyone has been waiting for. Finally, it's time for Pujara vs UP.

Pujara walks to the crease, fist-bumps Harvik Desai, the 20-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman. He seems to ask Desai about the last dismissal. Desai gestures, seeming to suggest Vishvaraj was done in by an outswinger.

Now, Pujara is ready to face. He stretches, arches back, looks at the sticker on the back of his bat.

"Where do I focus while concentrating?" makes it to the FAQs of most meditation manuals. Focusing on one's breathing is a common answer. For Pujara, that focus point seems to be the back of his bat. He looks at it before every ball he faces.

When you meditate, your immediate concern is the first thought that crosses your mind. For Pujara, it is Rajpoot's hat-trick ball. There are four slips in place and he edges it to the fourth. The fielder gets his fingertips to it but fails to grab on.

Pujara survives the first stray thought. He gets to the other end with a single.

"Whenever I am at the non-striker's end, I try not to think about anything, just enjoy the moment and still be aware of what is happening around me," Pujara said in that Fox Cricket interview. At the other end, Pujara is trying to re-focus - by looking at the sticker on the back of his bat.

Rajpoot is bowling a tight line, in the corridor outside off stump. Pujara is trying to survive. Leaving outside off. Playing out dots. He's getting beaten as well. In Rajpoot's next over, he is distracted by something near the sightscreen. He's definitely not in that zone where a batsman sees only the ball and everything else is a blur.

He survives until lunch. Ten minutes before the start of the second session, he comes out to take throwdowns near the boundary.

When play resumes, it looks like he's getting there. Into that zone, or near it. Rajpoot pitches one short and he cracks it past point for four. Then Shivam Mavi pitches one right up, and he caresses it through the covers.

Perhaps the 50 or so spectators who have gathered here will now get to watch the Pujara of Australia. The Pujara who blunted Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon. The Pujara who amassed 521 runs at 74.42. The Pujara who looked invincible.

Today he's batting at a level below Test cricket, in Indian conditions. But Pujara knows more than anyone else that nothing is easy. There's a bit of help for the fast bowlers, and Rajpoot and Mavi are making the most of it. Rajpoot is moving it away, Mavi is swinging it in. One of those inswingers has already nearly breached his defence.

And whether you're in Perth or Lucknow, one thing remains the same: it only takes one ball. Two balls after that cover drive, Pujara fends at a short one near his rib cage, and is caught at square leg.

He's out. For 11. His meditation has lasted 28 balls, 49 minutes.

Normal life resumes. UP's fast bowlers share seven wickets, and despite Desai's 84, Saurashtra end the day 170 for 7 in reply to the hosts' 385.