17th February 2023 will indeed mark a very special day in the glorious career of Cheteshwar Pujara as the silent warrior of Indian cricket will enter an elite list of Indian players to don the Test whites for 100 games.
For most of his career, the right-handed batter posed a perfect picture of resilience over aesthetics and determination over finesse to bail India out of challenging situations on numerous occasions.
As he sets foot for the second Test match on Friday against the mighty Australians in Delhi, a young kid from Rajkot playing leather ball cricket with his father from a tender age accomplishes a much-awaited dream of representing the nation not once but for the 100th time in the purest format.
While the world acknowledges the resilient service of the champion player for over a decade to Indian cricket, it is only apt that we at cricket.com celebrate the 'Wall that rarely cracked' and weathered numerous storms along the way by highlighting his seven most valiant innings in red-ball cricket.
206* off 389 vs England at Ahmedabad in 2012
A couple of months after Rahul Dravid decided to draw curtains to his glittering career, there were talks about who could potentially play his role of absorbing the pressure and standing tall amidst the chaos in the longest format.
While Cheteshwar Pujara was always touted to be India's new number three batter after making his debut in Bengaluru in 2010, there were question marks surrounding his technique in the initial years.
However, in the first Test match against England at home and in the beautiful city of Ahmedabad, Pujara made the noises for all the right reasons as he smashed a scintillating double hundred to power India to a mammoth first innings total.
Coming into bat at number three with the score reading 134 runs for the loss of Gautam Gambhir, Pujara steadied the innings with Virender Sehwag. The duo accumulated the ones and the twos before the swashbuckling opener was dismissed for 117 runs giving England their second wicket of the innings.
Despite the stutter, Pujara continued to rotate the strike along with the batters that followed to power India into a commanding position in the first couple of days of the Test match.
En route to this valiant effort, he smashed an unbeaten 206 runs off 389 deliveries, studded with 21 boundaries that propelled India to declare at 521 runs for eight wickets.
Pujara's batting heroics ensured England were in a dismal position after one innings and succumbed by nine wickets in the opening Test.
153 off 270 vs South Africa at Johannesburg in 2013
Over the years, the Indian team has always believed South Africa to be one of the toughest places to play Test cricket, and their series against them in 2013 was no different.
A young side led by Virat Kohli, the team was in a transition phase after the retirement of some legends of the game and were keen to kickstart the series with a positive brand of cricket.
While they stumbled in the first innings and were bundled out for 280 runs, they needed an inspired performance in the second innings to set up the game for the bowling unit.
In walks, Pujara, with the burden of India's batting on his shoulders and boy, he DID NOT DISAPPOINT as he stood like a wall to not only tire out the South African pacers but also score a well-crafted 153 runs off 270 deliveries that helped India post 421 runs in the second outing.
While his heroics did not help India get over the line, the knock did earn him plaudits from fans across the world for his immense grit and determination.
145* vs Sri Lanka at Colombo in 2015
In his long career filled with ebbs and flows, Pujara has never had to face such an extended lean patch before being dropped from the squad for the Sri Lanka series.
However, he bounced back in a roaring fashion as the Saurashtra batter opened the batting for the Indian team in the third Test and scored a sublime knock of an unbeaten 145 runs off 289 deliveries on a sluggish wicket in Colombo.
With the batting unit crumbling around him, Pujara found an able partner in Amit Mishra as the duo forged a crucial 104-run stand for the eighth wicket to guide India to safety.
En route to this match-defining partnership, Pujara notched a brilliant century to not only lead India to a total of 312 runs in the first innings but also help them record their first overseas Test series win after a gap of four years.
202 off 525 vs Australia at Ranchi in 2017
Two of the most dominant sides in world cricket, India and Australia, locked horns in the third of the four-Test match series in Ranchi. With tempers flaring in Bengaluru and the series evenly poised 1-1, it was time for the bandwagon to shift to the land of MS Dhoni.
After chasing leather for almost a day and a half as Australia scored 451 runs in the first innings, it was time for the Indian batters to showcase their class on a wicket that was starting to offer a hint of turn.
With an opening stand of 91 runs between KL Rahul and Vijay, the home team were comfortably placed before the Karnataka batter was caught for 67 runs.
Pujara walked in at number three with the lights fading and carefully negotiated the last few overs of play before starting his innings fresh on the third day. The right-hander consumed 525 deliveries en route to his record-breaking knock of 202 runs that helped India declare their innings 603 runs.
While the match ended in a draw, Pujara's stubborn resistance was hailed by the cricketing pundits as had it not been him, the story would have been a lot more different.
Pujara vs Australia in their backyard: A battle for the ages
It is fair to say that Cheteshwar Pujara has been the thorn for the Australian side in the last couple of years, especially in their own backyard.
In the season of the 2018 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Pujara and Virat Kohli were touted to be the players Australia should be wary of if they want to win the trophy and showcase their dominance at home.
And the home team experienced it in the first match of the series as Cheteshwar Pujara stood tall at the Adelaide Oval by scoring 123 runs out of 250 that India managed to post in the first innings.
And guess what, he was not done yet, as after taking a slender 15-run lead, Pujara was yet again at his best and notched up a crucial 71 in the second outing to give Australia a target of 322 runs.
Needless to say, the total was beyond the reach of the host nation, and India registered a 31-run win to go 1-0 up in the series.
While this is not the only instance of Pujara showcasing his vigil as three years later, in India's famous win in the land of the Kangaroos, Pujara was the glue to India's batting after the infamous 36 all down.
In the third Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, while the world applauded the efforts of Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari to help India hold onto a draw, it was Pujara who started the resistance.
He scored a patient 77 off 205 deliveries that defied Australia's early inroads in the inexperienced batting unit and held the innings together till the last session of play before Ashwin and Vihari showcased their talent in the final hour.
If the third Test was a testament to his patience and ability to bat for long four, his 56 off 211 balls at the Brisbane Cricket Ground in the following Test propelled India to breach the fortress.
Chasing 328 runs in the fourth innings, India lost Rohit Sharma early with only 18 runs on the board. After an early jolt, all relied on Pujara and a young Shubman Gill as they set forward to not only bail India out of this muddle but also lay a foundation for a historic run chase.
While the youngster was more free-flowing in his approach and took on the Aussie bowling unit, the mantra for Pujara was simple: Grind the bowlers out.
He scored 56 runs off 211 deliveries that not only tired the Australian quicks but also gave Rishabh Pant and the lower-order the wings to display their aggressive brand of cricket and script a new chapter in the history of Indian cricket.
At the ripe age of 35, there ain't any doubt that Cheteshwar Pujara is nearing the twilight of his career, but as fans of the sport, we cannot be happier for someone who has always been in the shadow of more exuberant players to finally get all the applause and adulation that he deserves.
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