BENGALURU: On Saturday, Cheteshwar Pujara cracked the fourth consecutive century in four matches in the ongoing County season in England. Batting against a fine Middlesex attack, Pujara completed the century in just 133 balls and was unbeaten at 125 at stumps. His innings is embellished by 16 boundaries and two sixes, including a scorching upper-cut against left-arm Pakistan pacer Shaheen Afridi.
Pujara now has scores of 201* (vs Derbyshire), 109 (vs Worcestershire), 203 (vs Durham) and 125* (this match) from his four games in this county stint.
From the look of things, he’s determined to make a strong comeback in international cricket. India is set to play a rescheduled Test in England at Edgbaston from July 1 to 5. Pujara has sent a strong message to selectors by going to England ahead of the Test and blasting four hundreds on the trot.
While his water-tight technique has always been lauded by one and all, one of the barbs he has constantly faced during his career is that he scores at a sluggish rate and often gets trapped in a shell. While this sometimes seems like unreasonable flak, especially in a longer format, Pujara seems to have taken it seriously.
He has struck all his recent tons in the county at a strike-rate of over 50. His two hundreds have come at a strike-rate over 60. He has looked positive and is on the prowl to score runs at every given opportunity. He’s creating opportunities to make runs instead of waiting for loose balls.
Pujara, known as the ‘mini wall’, ran into rough weather since the turn of the new decade. Since January 1, 2020, Pujara has scored only 923 runs at a poor average of 26.29 in the 20 Tests. During this phase, he failed to notch up any hundreds.
The Australian tour 2020-21 was a refreshing detour as he put together three half-centuries in four matches and played a vital role in India winning a historic Test series Down Under. But apart from those 4 Tests on Australian soil, he looked abysmally out of his depth.
As a result, he was dropped from the team in March 2022 for the home Test series against Sri Lanka.
Instead of licking his wounds, Pujara decided to play County cricket in England to gain his form back. And playing for Sussex, he’s now setting the County Circuit ablaze with his sizzling performances.
Pujara has been a vital cog of India’s Test squad since 2012 and has been instrumental in India’s rise to the no.1 position. On many occasions, he pulled India out of a quagmire and steered it to memorable victories. His stellar record between 2012 to 2019 is an eloquent testament to his immense contribution. During this period, he accumulated 5,633 runs at a terrific average of 50 in just 72 Tests. He also thumped 18 centuries during that period.
The 34-year-old is no stranger to tough times. In the past as well, he was axed from the playing XI and then made resounding comebacks. In 2015, he was not picked for the first two Tests on the Sri Lanka tour. However, he sallied back with a vengeance and scored a scintillating 145* in the 3rd Test, while opening the innings, on a treacherous pitch and led India to a series win.
From the time of school cricket, Pujara is known for his unwavering focus and penchant for massive scores. Both at a first-class level and in Test cricket, he has cobbled together many double centuries.
Till now, he has played 95 Tests. Will he achieve the distinction to feature in 100 Tests or is it too late for him? Watch this space…