Cheteshwar Pujara is an unusual 20-year-old. He spends about an hour in the company of various gods in his puja room when at home, and when on a cricket field, his meditation lasts for several days. He’s quiet and unassuming, and doesn’t quite fall into the stereotypical image of Oakley-clad, ear-pierced, tattooed cocky GenNext cricketers made-to-order for the game’s shortest version.
He has been known to score big; he sticks to playing the ball on the ground and rarely ventures outside the coaching manual. And now, he has ensured he’ll be remembered for an incredible feat — scoring three triple hundreds in a month. After notching up 386 and 322 in the under-22 tournament, the Saurashtra batsman scored an unbeaten 302 in the Ranji Trophy match against Orissa at Rajkot. “There was this feeling that the first two had come at u-22 level and things were easy for me. But this is the Ranji Trophy elite division. This is first-class cricket. And besides, this one was vital for the team too,” he says without raising his voice.
This triple century also got him a world record for the fifth-wicket partnership in any form of the game as he, along with his 2006 under-19 World Cup team mate Ravinder Jadeja, compiled an unbeaten partnership of 520, scratching Mark and Steve Waugh’s names off the books. Jadeja’s contribution was a worthy 232 not out. For many players these days, the step-up from age-group cricket to the national team has been quick, but for Pujara it’s been a steady rise. He finished as the highest run-getter in the junior World Cup two years back and some breathtaking consistency at the domestic level has seen him rise to the India A level. But with a long queue outside the Team India middle-order, mere centuries aren’t enough to get noticed. Pujara, obviously, has taken note. “I know it’s tough to get the big break. But still this triple hundred is important.”
This knock will also change the general perception about the technically sound batsman, who has often been labelled as too slow. Pujara insists that his strike-rate of 71.39 shouldn’t go unnoticed in the hype surrounding the 302 runs. “I could always play big knocks but now I know how to pace my innings,” he says.
Brief scores: Rajkot Saurashtra 620 for 4 decl in 162.5 overs (C Pujara n.o. 302, R Jadeja n.o. 232) vs Orissa 46 for no loss in 14 overs (BS Pati batting 29, SS Das batting 13)