Cheteshwar Pujara’s appetite for big runs first came to the fore when he made an unbeaten 306 for Saurashtra against Baroda in an Under-14 tournament in 2001. Since then he has hit 19 200-plus scores (six triple-centuries), of which 12 have come at the first-class level. His latest knock of 204 against Jharkhand in the fourth round of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy took him past Vijay Merchant’s tally of most 200-plus scores by an Indian in first-class cricket. Pujara spoke about each of his 12 knocks to Wisden India. Excerpts:
302* v Odisha in Rajkot (SCA Stadium), November 2008
423 balls, 603 minutes, 33 fours, 3 sixes
Team score at start of his innings: 26/2 in 14.3 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 620/4 in 162.5 overs
Result: Saurashtra won by an innings and 84 runs
First 200+ score in: 31 first-class matches
It was my first triple-hundred at the first-class level. I had scored two more triple-hundreds in Under-22 matches. So, I got three state-level triple-hundreds in a space of one month, but this was the first in Ranji Trophy. It was really good. I was always known to score big runs. When I made my first triple-century at the age of 13, I had thought I could do the same at the first-class level. Having done that, I was happy about the achievement.
204* v Maharashtra in Rajkot (Madhavrao Scindia Ground), November 2009
309 balls, 443 minutes, 22 fours, 1 six
Team score at start of his innings: 140/2 in 56.3 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 544/3 in 160 overs
Result: Match drawn (Saurashtra took lead)
Pujara in 12 innings
I remember that innings because I was making a comeback after an injury. I had been working hard at the NCA to get fit and play cricket again. To score that double-century gave me a lot of satisfaction as I got into the rhythm. It was a very important knock for me, and has to be my favourite domestic double-century. By then it had become a habit to score big runs. I remember even in my second Ranji game (against Goa in December 2005), I got 145. That’s a habit I had from junior cricket, and wanted to carry to the senior level.
It is always difficult to come back when you are out of the game for a long time. As a batsman you need to get your concentration and footwork to come back. It requires a lot of effort and commitment, so whatever runs I score after an injury is always special.
I have now played more than 100 first-class games. So, it is very difficult to remember what happened in each and every match. But sometimes you remember certain games because they were close and for the situations you played in. I am not a statistics person, and sometimes I don’t even remember my own scores.
208* v West Indies A in Croydon, June 2010
355 balls, 513 minutes, 34 fours, 1 six
Team score at start of his innings: 100/2 in 28.5 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 543/8 in 149 overs
Result: Match drawn
That was my maiden tour to England, and I was leading India A for the first time. West Indies had a very good bowling attack. Scoring a double-hundred in England is always special because the ball does something. It hardly matters whether the wicket is flat or seaming. There is always some help for the seamers through the day, especially in the air even if there is no help off the wicket. It is another of my favourite non-international double-hundreds.
206* v England in Ahmedabad, November 2012
389 balls, 513 minutes, 21 fours
Team score at start of his innings: 134/1 in 29.5 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 521/8 in 160 overs
Result: India won by nine wickets
That was my first game after I got engaged. I remember all my family members, in-laws and my wife had come to watch the match. That’s my first international double-century. I had a perfect series. In the second Test in Mumbai, I got 135. We should have won that game, but we lost. We started off well, but lost the series and I felt bad for it.
203* v Madhya Pradesh in Rajkot (SCA Stadium), December 2012
221 balls, 303 minutes, 30 fours, 1 six
Team score at start of his innings: 6/1 in 3 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 303/4 in 76 overs
Result: Saurashtra won by 227 runs
We were supposed to declare once I scored a hundred. Then we just accelerated and I got my next 100 within an hour and half in around 15 overs. That was really quick. I remember hitting Ishwar Pandey for five fours in an over. (After Saurashtra were 23 for 3), I was set and the moment I started accelerating it was fairly easy because I knew how the pitch was behaving.
352 v Karnataka in Rajkot (University Ground), January 2013
427 balls, 548 minutes, 49 fours, 1 six
Team score at start of his innings: 26/1 in 5.2 overs
Team score at the time of end of match: 718/9 in 167 overs
Result: Match drawn (Saurashtra took first-innings lead and qualified for semifinal)
That was before the England ODI series and I was a part of the team. Saurashtra had got the first-innings lead, after that I got 352. It was a big achievement because scoring 300 is always tough in Ranji Trophy. I actually had a chance to score 400 but I got out. It was a dull game once we took the lead. I enjoyed that innings and it was special because I was playing a lot of shots. I was just trying to slog after I went past 150.
204 v Australia in Hyderabad, March 2013
341 balls, 450 minutes, 30 fours, 1 six
Team score at start of his innings: 17/1 in 8 overs
Team score at the time of his dismissal: 393/3 in 120.4 overs
Result: India won by an innings and 135 runs
I had a big partnership with M Vijay. I remember being unbeaten on 162 at the end of second day’s play and then got there the next day. Vijay missed out on a double-hundred. In that innings we were in a spot of bother early. The ball was doing a bit early on, but once we played till lunch the wicket eased out and it was easy to bat on.
306* v West Indies A in Hubli, October 2013
415 balls, 579 minutes, 33 fours
Team score at start of his innings: 35/1 in 11.3 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 564/9 in 150 overs
Result: India won by an innings and 54 runs
It was a seaming wicket in Hubli where West Indies bowlers did not bowl well. We crossed 550 and I scored more than 50 percent of the total. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan played that game. I enjoyed scoring because the wicket was challenging. We bowled them out twice after batting first, which tells the wicket helped the bowlers and scoring was tough.
269 v Tamil Nadu in Chennai, November 2013
461 balls, 741 minutes, 33 fours
Team score at start of his innings: 2/1 in 1.3 overs
Team score at the time of his dismissal (end of match): 581/6 in 161.4 overs
Result: Match drawn (Saurashtra took first-innings lead)
I was really in good form (over the last 12 months). We had to get 566 to take the first-innings lead. I stayed till the end, and we eventually got the lead. It was a wicket where there was initial help for fast bowlers. But after that the wicket was flat, but even on a flat pitch it is difficult to get 550-plus. I ensured that we got three points. Jaydev (Shah) and I had a partnership of 353. I was batting normally and playing my shots. I was in the rhythm, having played international cricket. That innings gave me the momentum before the South Africa tour. The moment I score big runs, I get into the zone and get my footwork and concentration for long. When you score big runs before a big tour, it always gives you confidence. Then when I went to South Africa, I worked a bit on my game before the first Test.
256* v India Red in Noida, September 2016
363 balls, 541 minutes, 28 fours
Team score at start of his innings: 144/1 in 37.1 overs
Team score at the time of declaration: 693/6 in 168.2 overs
Result: India Blue won by 355 runs (Duleep Trophy champions)
It was special. You can say that I was a little bit out of form before the start of Duleep Trophy (Pujara had been dropped for the third Test in West Indies). I had to get my rhythm back. A big score was due as I was working on my game. First-class cricket is always the best platform to get some match practice. In the previous game, I had got 166 and had got into the groove.
202 v Australia in Ranchi, March 2017
525 balls, 672 minutes, 21 fours
Team score at start of his innings: 91/1 in 31.2 overs
Team score at the time of his dismissal: 527/7 in 193.2 overs
Result: Match drawn
When I am playing Ranji Trophy I always want to pull out a big score because I have the experience of playing at the international level. At Ranji Trophy, I think there is always opportunity to score big. I did not know about the record till I got back to the dressing room and someone tagged me on social media that I have surpassed Vijay Merchant sir’s record.
At the international level, this is my best double-century, along with my first one against England, because the circumstances were such. Australia had got 451 and when we started batting the ball started doing a bit. I would not say it was a rank turner, but the pitch had help for spinners. There was not much help for the spinners, but their bowling was very disciplined. At one stage we were 328 for 6, and we had to make sure that we got past their score and win the Test. We almost won. They were four down at lunch on final day, but after that batted well.
The key to this innings was the partnership with Wriddhiman Saha. We had a big partnership in the Irani Cup. It was a tough game. We were 63 for 4, chasing 379. At one point we thought we had lost the game, but the way Wriddhi batted in that innings gave me a lot of confidence to play my natural game. I remember Anil (Kumble) bhai mentioning that you two had that partnership in Irani Cup, so you can have it here also. That’s what happened.
The 92 I had got in Bangalore in the previous Test was a series-defining knock. That gave me a lot of confidence. As a team all of us got together and badly wanted to win the series. That motivated me to score this double-hundred in Ranchi (where Pujara set a new record for most balls played by an Indian in a Test innings).
204 v Jharkhand in Rajkot (Madhavrao Scindia Ground), November 2017
355 balls, 566 minutes, 28 fours
Team score at start of his innings: 34/1 in 10.4 overs
Team score at the time of his dismissal: 516/9 in 141.2 overs
Result: Saurashtra won by six wickets
It was long due. I had been working hard. When I am playing Ranji Trophy I always want to pull out a big score because I have the experience of playing at the international level. At Ranji Trophy, I think there is always opportunity to score big. I had been batting well. Initially I was cautious as there was assistance for seamers because of moisture and then, for the spinners. But as I batted longer, the wicket became flat. They had a decent bowling attack with Varun Aaron, (Shahbaz) Nadeem and Ashish Kumar. There was another young left-arm spinner who was good. I felt really good about this knock.
I did not know about the record till I got back to the dressing room and someone tagged me on social media that I have surpassed Vijay Merchant sir’s record. It always feels good to play at Madhavrao Scindia Ground because I started playing state-level cricket here before the new stadium was built. We were 271 for 5, and I thought on this wicket we need 450 to win the game. So I batted on.
It is always about practice and determination to score big runs. Personally, I always look at the bigger picture. When I am playing as a batsman, I look at the team’s perspective, which is to put up a big total. Whenever I bat, mostly the team would have lost four to five wickets. I always look what is the right total for the team on this wicket and bat accordingly.