Pujara bats for domestic cricket

Saurashtra’s Cheteshwar Pujara (left) and Karnataka’s Mayank Agarwal greet each other at the KSCA (B) Ground on Tuesday. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R

Cheteshwar Pujara made his Test debut at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium against Australia in 2010 as an understudy to Rahul Dravid and stole the limelight from his illustrious senior team-mate with a sparkling 72 in the successful chase of 207.

Since announcing his arrival on the big stage in fine fashion, Pujara has come back to the venue on a few more occasions but never with his stature so enhanced as it is now. The tour of Australia, where he was man of the series in India’s 2-1 win in the Test rubber, has elevated Pujara’s standing in Indian cricket like never before and there is obviously a great buzz around him as he turns up for Saurashtra for their Ranji Trophy semifinal clash against Karnataka, starting here on Thursday.

In Pujara’s opposite camp will be his India team-mate Mayank Agarwal who will be playing his first game for Karnataka after returning from a successful Test debut in Australia. Just as Pujara bolsters Saurashtra’s line-up, Agarwal boosts Karnataka’s confidence. Domestic cricket needs star players as much as they need domestic cricket and Pujara and Agarwal are a perfect example of this happy arrangement.

Having returned from his most productive trip -- both personally and team’s point of view -- Pujara could have chosen to relax and none would have grudged it. But the prolific right-hander decided to repay his debt to a system that has shaped the batsman that he is today.

“I feel it is important to be part of the Ranji Trophy,” said Pujara after joining his team here on Tuesday. “For me, playing for Saurashtra is an honour. I’ve grown up playing Ranji Trophy cricket. It has helped me immensely when I’ve played international cricket. Being part of the Saurashtra unit is something I’ve always looked forward to. Especially when we are in the knockout stage. I feel if I’m around and if I can share my experience with young players, it can help the team.

“I always respect Ranji Trophy. It is always special for me. I feel the youngsters should look forward to playing this tournament because it prepares you for the longer format. I made my Ranji debut for Saurashtra in 2005. After that, the number of matches I’ve played...it has taught me many lessons on playing long innings,” he elaborated.

Similarly, Agarwal owes a lot to domestic cricket where his exploits over the last two years have helped him graduate to India A and India senior team.    

“It means a lot,” said Agarwal who missed Karnataka’s quarterfinal against Rajasthan with a thumb injury. “The state has given a lot of opportunities and facilities. Whatever you do, you have to come back and play for the state and put in that effort which you did before you went to play for the country. So nothing changes,” he offered.

Pujara made an immediate impact with the bat in Saurashtra’s successful chase of a record target against Uttar Pradesh with a second-innings half-century in the quarterfinal. And it was his pep talk after conceding a big first-innings lead that inspired the team to stay confident about pulling off a win. 

Karnataka will be hoping Agarwal is as influential to their fortunes as they eye a final berth.   

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Pujara bats for domestic cricket

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