At a time when more and more nations around the world are trying to expand the game by starting T20 leagues, Cheteshwar Pujara remains a man from a different time. A time when the game was played to gain respect of peers and opposition. When financial gains remained secondary. When priorities did not shift like seasons.
To be fair to him, Pujara has tried to always say he wished to be play more the glamorous forms of the game. But a combination of lack of consistent opportunities and reduced faith by franchises have meant Pujara has remained a single-format player in international cricket, primarily.
But heading into his 100th Test, he can be proud of the numbers he has amassed. 99 Tests, 7021 runs, Average 44.1. Since debuting in 2010, New Zealand remains the only SENA country where the right-hander has not hit a century, yet.
However, for those who have followed his career closely some of Pujara’s best efforts are actually the non-centuries. By his own admission, three out of five favorite knocks are non-hundreds- 72 against Australia on debut, 92 against Australia in 2017, and 56 against the same opponents at the Gabba in 2021.
India won each of those matches. The context to each of them was starkly different. But without Pujara’s contribution, India may not have won each of them. During the course of the 99 Tests, Pujara has seen it all. Soaring highs. Crushing lows. Criticism over strike-rate. Omission from team. Snubbed at IPL auctions.
Yet, he has carried on. When peers and juniors rake in the glamour and moolah during the IPL, Pujara is battling green seamers in county cricket. When younger cricketers get spoken of as the next big thing, Pujara has more than once why they must strive to be a Test cricketer above others. He has been the monk who has driven his own Ferrari, at his own speed.
Ahead of 100th Test, India need Pujara to stand up and be counted again as the side look to book their spot in the World Test Championship final. A night before the game though, Pujara can look back at a journey well-travelled.