He started the morning serenely; a mini-drama came at the stroke of lunch when he survived a dropped catch before he provided a spurt of entertainment in the afternoon. One thing Pujara has been used to since his youth is scoring triple-hundreds, having crossed the 300-run mark at all age-group levels before replicating the feat twice in the Ranji Trophy. As he progressed past the 200-run mark in customarily steady fashion, there was almost a sense of inevitability that there was another one coming. And Pujara duly completed his third triple, becoming only the ninth batsman in first-class history to complete the feat, the list including the likes of Don Bradman, WG Grace, Wally Hammond and his state-mate Ravindra Jadeja.
It was really Pujara’s incredible change of tempo though, as India A began losing wickets, that was the story of third day’s play. The first 235 runs of his innings came in the most pristine of fashion. He was reprieved on 198 on the stroke of lunch, when Ashley Nurse dropped a straightforward catch at slip off the bowling of Miguel Cummings. And there were a couple of nervous moments as he approached his double-hundred.
On either side, Pujara’s innings was laced with fluent strokes on both sides of the wicket, off front and back foot. He used his feet against Nurse and Nikita Miller to great effect every time they gave the ball even a semblance of air, off-driving and on-driving the spinners towards the straight boundaries.
His defence remained as steadfast as ever, however, with the West Indies A bowlers failing to find the elusive chink in his armour. Any width from pacers Delorn Johnson or Cummings was punished past either side of point, his bat coming down on the ball like a rapier with every one of his trademark cut shots. A hapless Cummings was even pushed into intimidating Pujara with a series of bouncers, three on the trot, with the third being signalled a no-ball for height, causing a minor stoppage in play.
But as wickets began tumbling at the other end, he decided to change gears. Few batsmen can score at a rapid pace without really looking gung-ho in their approach like Pujara can. He even brought out a few uncharacteristic shots from his repertoire, a reverse scoop shot off off-spinner Narsingh Deonarine, a glide over the slips for four off Cummings and a few delicate lap sweeps.
Pujara raced to 273, having scored 38 runs off his previous 26 balls. Then Zaheer Khan and Bhargav Bhatt fell off successive deliveries, leaving Pujara with just Ishwar Pandey for company.
It’s here that Pujara was almost Laxmanesque when batting with the tail, facing 23 off the next 25 deliveries of the partnership, racing to the cusp of his triple-century. Then Cummings pitched one slightly full and wide, which Pujara smashed through the covers, taking him to 303, before declaring the India A innings with a lead of 296 runs. His last 71 runs came off just 55 balls. Having come into this match on the back of three failures, his series average jumped from 15 in three innings to 117 in four.
The run-machine, who never tires of batting, provided another example of his prime fitness as he was immediately back on the field, leading his side in their quest to level the series. And by stumps, Zaheer Khan,Dhawal Kulkarni and Pandey snared a wicket each to leave the visitors at 116/3 with a day to bat out, save the match and win the series.
Brief scores: WI A 268 & 116/3 (N Deonarine batting 44, A Fudadin batting 36; I Pandey 1/11) vs India A 564/9 decl (C Pujara 306*, G Gambhir 123; A Nurse 3/106)
Making the Don-Grade
Cheteshwar Pujara has now scored six triple centuries, including three in First-Class cricket, to go equal with Don Bradman. While all of Bradman’s six triple tons were made in First-Class games, Pujara’s half-a-dozen includes one while playing for Saurashtra Under-14 in 2001 and another two when representing his state’s Under-22 side in 2008.
“When it comes to triple centuries it would be safe to say that Pujara has equalled the great Don Bradman. While Under-14 and Under-22 age-group cricket cannot be classified as First-Class cricket, these formats are of national importance because they are recognised by the BCCI and Pujara was playing for his state side. At the same time Pujara’s record also gains significance because I can’t think of another batsman in the world who has scored as many triple centuries right from age-group to First-Class cricket,” cricket statistician Mohandas Menon said.
Following Don Bradman on the First-Class list of century makers are Bill Ponsford and Wally Hammond on four each. Those who have made three triple-centuries are WG Grace, Graeme Hick, Brian Lara, Michael Hussey, Ravindra Jadeja, incidentally also from Saurashtra, and Pujara. —ENS