“The wall remains intact,” was how the commentators described the 34-year-old Cheteshwar Pujara, who was batting on 196. When Middlesex skipper Tim Murtagh brought the field in to prevent singles, Pujara stepped down and punched the ball through the gap for a double century. Lord’s was reverberating with thunderous claps and Pujara had to wipe down a huge smile on his face.
Pujara is a revolution, one that for the longest time played a significant role in India’s overseas wins. While things haven’t quite gone his way in the Indian colours, Pujara has been more than an influential figure for Sussex in the ongoing County season, bringing up his third double-century in the competition.
The Indian batter followed the rich legacy of Indian representation at Sussex, including Ranjitsinhji and Tiger Pataudi. Pujara during his first stint earlier this year, was a stepping stone to the club’s success, with four centuries, including a high-score of 203, scoring 766 runs at an average of 109.42.
"Puj (Pujara) was very keen to step up in the absence of Tom, he sees the potential in this side and has been a natural leader ever since he joined. By having a batter take up the role it means Finn can focus on leading our attack. Puj is a vastly experienced and quality person who I know will do a fantastic job,” Sussex’s head coach Ian Salisbury said ahead of the clash.
Pujara marked his return to the County against Leicestershire, where he scored 46 in the clash that ended in a draw. In the ongoing contest against Middlesex, the right-hander had an added responsibility. In the absence of Tom Haines, he was appointed as the skipper of the side at Lord’s. It wasn’t the first time the Indian batter was leading a side, having led Saurashtra, Rest of India and West Zone in the past.
Batting at No.4, Pujara walked out at a tricky stage for the team, at 99/2. Umesh Yadav’s inclusion only made Middlesex’s bowling attack more formidable. However, an unfazed Pujara made light work of the bowling unit, scoring his fifth century of the ongoing County season, marking a prolific record for the right-hander in the country. At stumps on day one, Pujara remained unbeaten on 115.
In seven appearances this season, Pujara has already scored five centuries, been involved in eight century-run partnership for the club. Forming a crucial partnership with Tom Alsop, Pujara took on the attack in the most fighting spirit, scoring boundaries at ease. During his stay at the crease, the Indian batter also showed his dominant back-foot game with multiple pulls and punches on the backfoot.
Despite losing batters quickly overnight, Pujara continued his gritty approach, soaking all the pressure from the experienced Middlesex bowling unit. On the second day, the right-hander brought up his 900th run of the ongoing season, with a single against Yadav. Later in the same session, the right-hander showed frustration when he was beaten by Yadav but never threw away his wicket.
At lunch, the 34-year-old remained unbeaten on 143, as Sussex brought up their 400. As soon as they walked out to bat, the right-hander brought up his fourth 150 of the season. Pujara’s highest Test score at the Lord’s is 45 but on Wednesday, he looked to change that with a double-century. Never in the innings did the right-hander lose his patience or hit a shot that was out of frustration.
What he did do throughout his innings was bat with a lot of patience and rigour, including putting on a partnership with bowlers Aristides Karvelas and Steve Finn. Later in the day, when Toby Roland-Jones went down in desperation for an appeal against Pujara, it was clear what the Indian batter has done. He not only had an effect on the scoreboard but also tired out the Middlesex team mentally with every passing delivery.
Time and again this season, Pujara has been a pillar of strength for Sussex and his latest showing at Lord’s just emphasizes the importance of patience and experience against the moving red-ball. And, the applause when he walked out having scored 231, batted over 400 deliveries reflected the quality of the knock.