It was quite an exceptional performance from India’s prolific scorer in domestic cricket in recent times. Saurashtra’s Cheteshwar Pujara stamped his authority, as he carved a unique unbeaten century (116 batting, 325 minutes, 212 balls, 15x4, 1x6) against Assam on a lovely batting deck at the Reliance Stadium here on Sunday.
After announcing the details of the fine century, the scorer in the press box quickly pointed out an interesting trivia: Pujara had scored his 17th century for Saurashtra and his 31st first class hundred at an average of 20 runs an hour. However, his first big knock of the season has almost bailed Saurashtra out of a predicament in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Assam.
Things were proceeding in a pedestrian way as Assam began to defend its small first innings total of 234 with its most successful new ball operators, Krishna Das and Arup Das, in action. However, the arrival of Pujara in the middle after the fall of the first wicket before lunch and his confident and calm demeanour in the context of front-foot and back-foot play while steering his team to some measure of safety, was in sharp contrast to the way the other batsmen tried to approach their innings.
Looking to play a major knock for his team in five matches and particularly with a stated ambition to guide his team into the title round, Pujara (on 37 and with Saurashtra’s score on 115 for 3) had a big slice of luck when wicketkeeper K. B. Arun Kathick put down a straightforward nick off Krishna. Assam paid for the lapse heavily.
After a reasonable start given by Avi Barot and Sagar Jogiyani, Saurashtra suddenly found itself floundering against the efficient line and length of the Assam seamers. It, however, recovered gradually to finish the day at 254 for five – 20 runs ahead in the first innings.
The second day’s play ended a little late in order to make up for the overs lost as Saurashtra had bowled 12 overs short on the first day.
Assam’s tired attack leaked runs in the post-tea session and during the extended time after 4.30 pm. Assam itself was nowhere close to the quota of overs it should have sent down by then.
Assam’s fortunes clearly hinged on the frequency of the wickets it took. But Krishna and Arup could not have been always fresh in the two or three spells that they bowled – they bowled 25 and 21 overs respectively – and the absence of a good third and fourth seamer to sustain the pressure did not help the Assam’s cause. The physiotherapist had to attend to a cramping Arup, while Krishna hurt the fingers on his left hand while trying to stop a hard shot by Pujara.
Saurashtra first recovered through the fourth wicket stand of 70 by Pujara and Sheldon Jackson, and then took control in the final hour of the day with Pujara and all-rounder Chirag Jani holding out for 82 minutes and raising 93 runs for the unfinished sixth wicket partnership.
Pujara was in his elements on and off during his tenure of over five hours. He shared the day’s honours with left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat, who took three wickets off four balls with the second new ball to terminate Assam’s first innings. Three wickets, including that of Amit Verma, fell at the same score. Amit fell short of the three-figure mark by two runs after battling hard for a little over six-and-a-half hours.