Cheteshwar Pujara on Saturday joined a select group of cricketing greats by smashing his 50th first-class century during Saurashtra’s Ranji Trophy group B match against Karnataka, in Rajkot. Pujara warmed up nicely for the upcoming Test series in New Zealand with stylish 162 off 238 balls that had 17 fours and a six. Pujara, joined an elite list of nine Indians led by Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. The 31-year-old Pujara, who has 18 Test centuries to his credit, is fourth on the list of active players with most first-class centuries behind former England skipper Alastair Cook (65), former South Africa captain Hashim Amla (52) and India’s domestic cricket giant Wasim Jaffer (57).
Among current active Test players, the nearest contender to Pujara is Australia’s Steve Smith, who has 42 first-class centuries while his India team-mates Virat Kohli (34) and Ajinkya Rahane (32) are much behind.
Pujara (15188 before this match) already has scored more than 15,000 runs in his career, during which he has played 197 matches.
Saurashtra finished the day at 296/2, with Sheldon Jackson batting at 99 alongside Pujara.
Shams Mulani (87) and Aditya Tare (69, batting) raised a 155-run partnership with fighting half-centuries to help Mumbai finish the opening day of their Ranji Trophy Group ‘B’ match against Tamil Nadu at 284 for six, in Chennai.
Electing to bat after winning the toss, the visitors were in a spot of bother as lanky left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore (3/77) and ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (3/58) struck at regular intervals to leave them five down.
Baba Aparajith led Tamil Nadu as Vijay Shankar was drafted into the India ‘A’ team for the New Zealand tour and left to join the squad.
Kishore got into the act first and picked up the first three wickets in the opening session. Ashwin was wicket-less till the lunch break but made his presence felt after the break, dismissing debutant Hardik Tamore (21) and Sarfaraz Khan (36).
Khan hit two towering sixes off Kishore but miscued a cut off Ashwin to be caught by Aparajith.
Earlier, Mumbai got off to a solid start as Jay Bista made a fluent 41 and put on 50 runs for the opening wicket with debutant Bhupen Lalwani (21).
Bista looked good for more before Kishore got one to go in between bat and pad to disturb the stumps.
Kishore kept bowling a tight line and length and got the wickets of Lalwani and Mumbai’s crisis-man Siddhesh Lad (0), caught brilliantly by Aparajith in the slips.
Ashwin picked the scalps pf Tamore and Sarfaraz to put more pressure on Mumbai.
Tare, who joined Mulani in the middle started slowly and looked to play himself in. After defying Ashwin, Kishore and the rest of the Tamil Nadu attack for the rest of the middle session, they came into their own in the final session.
Mulani displayed his full range of strokes and played a few attractive hooks and pulls as the host bowlers ran out of ideas.
However, Ashwin struck against the run of play, dismissing Mulani, caught by Aparajith in the slips off the penultimate ball of the day.
Mulani later told reporters that the pitch was on the slower side.
“I was a little patient. Just tried to play to my strengths,” he said about his approach today.
Sai Kishore admitted that the team’s bowlers could have bowled a lot more tight lines and lengths in the second and third sessions when Mulani and Tare got going.