Thirty-three first-class centuries. 10 scores in excess of 200, and over 10,000 runs. These are some of the statistical highlights of Cheteshwar Pujara’s storied domestic career so far. These numbers give a clear indication of his consistency and his insatiable appetite for scoring big runs at the domestic level. All these facets were on ample display on Day 2 of the Duleep Trophy final between India Red and India Blue at the Greater Noida Stadium, where Pujara scored an unbeaten 256.
The 28-year-old continued in the same nonchalant manner that he had exhibited the previous day. Absolutely nothing seemed to fluster him. Neither the first ball dismissal of his overnight partner Dinesh Karthik, nor the testing spell bowled by India Red’s pacers in the opening hour. He looked unflappable.
A sweetly timed off drive of Pradeep Sangwan early in the day gave an early reminder to the rival captain Yuvraj Singh that the No.3 was in for yet another major haul. He was more prolific against the spinners, skipping down the track and peeling off boundaries against them almost at will. On a placid and dry pitch, which had a few cracks opening up, none of India Red’s bowlers had the gumption to dismiss Pujara.
Opening on 111, he batted with a sense of serenity. His knock was replete with high levels of concentration, doggedness and purpose. The standout feature of his knock was his strike rate, which was an impressive 70.52. In three Duleep Trophy innings, he has raked up 453 runs. Suddenly, his series of below par scores in international cricket in recent times seemed to be a thing of distant past. His feats in the last fortnight here should quell talk about his viability in India’s Test squad. In front of the national selectors and India’s head coach Anil Kumble, Pujara has given a good account of himself.
“With modern cricket, everybody looks at the strike rate rather than what that particular player brings to that table,” Kumble told ESPNcricinfo in an interview. “Pujara is a very important cog in our wheel and when he plays at No. 3, he is a very important player. Yes, there are times when he misses out and Rohit comes in. That’s when we probably feel we need someone lower down to accelerate. That’s why in one of the Tests in West Indies, he missed out,” Kumble added.
Saurashtra lads make hay
On Sunday, Pujara found an able ally in his Saurashtra team-mate Sheldon Jackson. The two added 243 runs for the fourth wicket to power Gautam Gambhir’s side to a commanding 693/6 declared at the end of the first innings. Buoyed by a resounding ton and a quickfire unbeaten 79 in his previous game against India Green, Jackson has been one of the top run-getters for India Blue in this Duleep Trophy. However, unlike in the previous games, the 29-year-old had to grind it out at the start of his proceedings today.
Walking in after the fall of Karthik on the first ball of the day, he found the going tough against pacers Pradeep Sangwan and Nathu Singh. A punch through the cover point region off Nathu and a flurry of boundaries off Amit Mishra helped him get into his groove. With his nimble footwork, he was not afraid of skipping down the track to Red’s spin duo of Mishra and Yadav, in an obvious attempt to thwart them off their line and length. His ploy worked, and Yuvraj’s bowlers were on a leather hunt.
Brief scores: India Blue 693/6d in 168.2 overs (Pujara 256*, Jackson 134, Gambhir 94, Mishra 2/171) vs India Red 16/2 in 9.0 ovs (S Dhawan 14*, Pankaj Singh 2/12)