Cheteshwar Pujara joined an elite list of cricketers when he brought up his 50th first-class century on Saturday, the first day of the Ranji Trophy match against Karnataka in Rajkot. He finished unbeaten on 162 to help Saurashtra gain control after Karnataka picked up two early wickets.
Pujara's record comes about a month before India's tour of New Zealand - a significant one, as a win there could leave them within touching distance of the inaugural World Test Championship final in June 2021. In a chat with ESPNcricinfo, Pujara talks about the landmark and why it is special.
Were you aware of this landmark when you brought up your century?
Actually I wasn't, but before this season there was an article on ESPNcricinfo only - at that time I was close to the 50th first-class ton. But after that I forgot. To be honest, when I scored this hundred I did not really remember that.
This is your fourth match this Ranji season. You scored two half-centuries in the previous matches (against Uttar Pradesh and Railways). And this is your first century, so you should be happy about the way you have started the new season?
Yes, I would say so. All the first three matches had outright results. The first two games, in fact, finished in three days itself. So we were playing on challenging pitches, but I still felt I was batting well. Even in the last game against Uttar Pradesh, I was in good touch, so I knew that there was a big one coming soon. Even against Bangladesh, in both the Tests I got fifties. But you want to convert the fifties into a big one and today I was able to do that. It is the right time actually - we are going to New Zealand soon so it is good for the preparation. Whenever you score runs, you are high on confidence and you also get back your rhythm.
You have always maintained you play for the joy of the game rather than records. But this record must still mean something special to you considering you are now part of a select list of players to have achieved this feat?
It does feel special. It's a proud moment, although you don't want to look too much into your stats. At least while you are playing. Because even when I am batting I am hardly aware if I am nearing the 50 or 100. I actually don't even remember the number of Test matches I have played and the number of runs I have scored. When someone else is discussing it, you come to know.
At times [such records] also motivate you to work harder on your game. You start trusting your game even more because not many players have achieved this feat. You know that you have some talent, and you need to keep working on your game and continue doing the same things. And when such moments come in your career you feel, yes, for whatever you have done in the past you have got the results, and then there are the stats you can look at.
A healthy number of your first-class centuries have come in domestic cricket. The importance of domestic cricket cannot be ruled out, isn't it?
Not at all. I am a believer that a player, before making [their] debut, should play enough domestic games before being given an opportunity in the Test team. I strongly believe that our first-class cricket is competitive and the guys who have scored runs in Ranji Trophy, for example Hanuma Vihari and Mayank [Agarwal] - these guys were ready when they got their opportunity [to play Test cricket]. The same applies to a bowler as well. Take [Shahbaz] Nadeem - he was ready for the international level. Playing Ranji Trophy and performing there should be appreciated and that is the process BCCI is following.
You are 31, there definitely must be a lot of cricket left in you. Will this record perhaps inspire you to keep going in domestic cricket once you are done with Tests?
Yes, it would. But your priority is always to play Test cricket as much as possible. It is still a long way to go. Luckily I am young and I still love playing this format. Times are changing and white-ball cricket has become popular. But Test cricket is always special and it will always remain special. And let us hope it continues for as much time as possible.
How important is this record to you coming on the eve of an overseas tour (New Zealand)?
There is no right [or wrong] time, but yes, I would say it is always the right time when you are going abroad or if a big match is coming up. If you achieve such a thing before such tours, you feel confident and you start trusting your game again. That is because when you are going abroad and you are playing in challenging conditions, you need to trust your game, trust your preparation. And when something like this happens then you know that you need to continue doing whatever you have done in the past. And maybe work a little harder. It gives me the confidence that if I can do well in first-class cricket, then I can do it in any form of cricket. I've still got a lot in me, I still am young and I still have a lot to achieve in my career.
Virat Kohli is eventually going to set a number of records and cricketers, in the future, will be looking to chase that. Do you think he will he catch up with your first-class century count?
He hasn't played too many first-class games so you can't even compare [our first-class records]. But he has achieved at the highest level and in all formats of the game, which is always higher than the first-class level. I mean if he has scored many tons at international level, it is always a proud moment. You can't compare first-class records with ODI tons or even Test match centuries - [taking that into account] he is way ahead when you compare with other players.