Cheteshwar Pujara’s determination and grit paying dividends at Sussex

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Cheteshwar Pujara has already hit two double hundreds for Sussex in three matches.

Sussex Cricket.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s determination and grit paying dividends at Sussex

Cheteshwar Pujara has reaffirmed himself in the ongoing County Championship 2022 for Sussex with his art of batting. The 34-year-old warhorse from India, who made his debut in the competition this season, has already aggregated 531 runs in five innings, which includes two spirited double centuries.

Cheteshwar Pujara is not someone who will offer you clean hitting with a range of shots. Rather, he has an idiosyncratic method for playing cricket balls, which challenges the bowlers by telling “hit me as hard as you can.”

Pujara was often compared with Rahul Dravid for having the ability to stand up against the scorching pace, but because of not matching his lofty standards for more than three years, they are no longer being discussed. In fact, Pujara was axed from Team India’s Test squad against Sri Lanka in their last assignment at home.

Being a veteran of 6, 713 runs in red-ball cricket, averaging 43.87, it was a massive heartbreak for Pujara. The 34-year-old was well aware of the fact that he is not having the best of times. Sussex saw the opportunity and approached him to play in the County Championship and Royal London One-Day Cup. They needed a replacement for Travis Head

Unsurprisingly, Pujara gladly accepted the deal to play for the English county side. However, due to visa concerns, he did not get the chance to make his debut there in the season’s first match. It came a week later, against Derbyshire.

Sadly, there was no noteworthy knock by Pujara to get things going, as he departed cheaply after scoring six off 15 balls. But then, in the second innings against Derbyshire, he finally seemed to be in a clear state of mind. As a result, a gritty knock of unbeaten 201 came off his bat, with the help of 23 sixes.

Moreover, Sussex were on the verge of defeat after folding out for 174 in the first innings after Derbyshire’s 505/8 declared. Following on, Pujara’s valiant knock, coupled with skipper Tom Haines’s magnificent 243, helped them reach 513/3 in the second innings to save the game.

So despite making a little impact with his opening innings, Pujara’s debut match for Sussex was quite remarkable, considering his team’s initial state of affairs.

The 203 not out off 387 balls was a statement knock in trying conditions by Pujara, who made all believe that he has not gone to England not just to roam around here and there.

Pujara’s next challenge was against Worcestershire at New Road. This time, he did not disappoint in the first innings. The zest for self-improvement was quite visible there as he notched up a stupendous hundred – 109 off 206 balls – to take Sussex to 269 after Worcestershire’s 491. But it was not enough for his side to escape a defeat, as they were then skittled out for 188 after opposition skipper Brett D'Oliveira enforced the follow-on. Pujara, in the second innings, only managed to contribute with 12 off 22 balls.

The third, and most recent, Pujara’s outing inspired a legion of followers yet again. Pujara, in his only innings against Durham, batted more rapidly than he used to do, slamming 203 off 334 balls. Although it did not come in a winning cause, as Sussex remained winless after four attempts. Their opening fixture, before Pujara’s arrival, ended up in a draw as well.

Notably, Pujara has 15 first-class double hundreds, the most by an Asian cricketer as per ESPNCricinfo’s data. The record was initially held by Kumar Sangakkara, with 13. Though Pujara had to wait for 52 innings to get to a three-digit score. His last first-class hundred came against Karnataka in January 2020, when he scored 248.

It is worth a mention that only Mohammad Azharuddin had double-hundreds in County Championship among Indians. Azharuddin had two, in 1991 and 1994 for Derbyshire, and Pujara, inside three matches, has equalled his feat.

Sussex have been beckoning Pujara since he made his move. Indians would be hoping to keep the momentum going as they would love to get the good-old champion back at the No. 3 role. But it would be tough for the Rajkot-born cricketer to reclaim his throne. Hanuma Vihari, who used to bat lower down the order for India, did well against Sri Lanka after coming at Pujara’s vacated position.

"I feel the lack of game time was a big reason why he could not be consistent over the past three seasons, Pujara's father cum coach, Arvind, told PTI after his second double hundred, reflecting on the fact that there was no Ranji Trophy campaign last year duo to Covid-19 pandemic.

"When you play the likes of Australia and England, you have to be on the top of your game as you don't get loose balls that you may get at the domestic level. There were not enough games for him to play at the domestic level to be ready for bigger battles. That I feel impacted his consistency at the highest level. Now that he is getting to play regularly, you can see the consistency is back in his game."

Before the omission against the Sri Lanka series, Pujara had been entrusted with the responsibility to hold India’s innings in Test cricket for more than a decade. He did his part impeccably more often than not, and his 18 hundreds and 32 fifties speak volumes. 

For Sussex, the positive nature is coming off Pujara’s bats after such a long time. He has not made any complaints publicly regarding his dropping from national sides and is only interested in getting his familiar spot back with audacious performance. Safe to say, he is on the right track to making that happen. Considering India’s fifth and final Test in England is to be held in July, it may even not take much longer.

Let's keep this going, Pujara!

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