On yet another occasion Cheteshwar Pujara demonstrated a big appetite for runs and became the first batsman in the history of the Challenger Series for the N.K.P.Salve Trophy to score back to back centuries and remain unconquered.
Turning up at the Khanderi village stadium for the last league match of the tournament on Monday and sixteen hours after he had made a gallant unbeaten 158 against India A’ , Pujara defeated the odd uncertain bounce, early spin, tumbling of wickets at the opposite end and weary limbs to make an authoritative undefeated 124 (129b, 10 x 4s, 2 x 6s) and eventually lead his team to a strong 328 after electing to bat. After the fall of S.Anirudha for a cheap score, Murali Vijay made an assertive 93 and in the end Pujara saw his leading paceman Praveen Kumar strike sledgehammer blows to make a 26 ball 53 (7 x 4s, 3 x 6s) that rattled Bengal and put to shade medium pacer Sandipan Das’ five wicket haul in ten overs.
The sheer weight of his grand deeds with the bat over the last many years has stirred the imagination of the locals and Kutch region. Whether it be at the Race Course Ground or the newly built stadium 16 kilometres in the rural outback, Pujara has found the surface deliver him runs aplenty. There were occasions when the ball stopped on a pitch used for the third day straight for the tournament, but he was able to counter the surprising bounce by withdrawing his bottom hand and allowing the ball to drop down upon contact with the full face of the bat.
Pujara was in the middle in the 21 ball after Arnab Nandi held a catch at slip of seamer Veer Pratap Singh to send back Anirudha. Bengal began the contest bringing in left arm spinner Iresh Saxena, but he made no impact and the second wicket pair in Vijay and Pujara added 140 runs. The fall of the third wicket and thereafter a few more, thanks to fine effort from fielder Nandi, saw Bengal compete, but Praveen Kumar spoilt it all with a robust knock and Pujara for the second day running returned to a standing ovation from his teammates and fans.
India `B’: S.Anirudha c Nandi b V.P.Singh 10 (12b, 2 x 4s), M.Vijay c Saha b Sandipan Das 93 (79b, 8 x 4s, 4 x 6s), C. Pujara not out 124 (129b, 10 x 4s, 2 x 6s), K. Jadhav b Sandipan Das 22, R.Jadeja c Nandi b Sandipan Das 6 (6b), R. Bist c Nandi b Sandipan Das 1 (4b), S. Binny c D. Das b Sandipan Das 7 (8b, 1 x4), R. Motwani b Saxena 6 (14balls), P.Kumar c D.Das b Ravikant 53 (26b, 7 x 4s, 3 x 6s) , Harmeet Singh not out 0 (0b), Extras (nb3,w3)6, Total (for 8 wkts in 50 overs) 328
Fall of wkts: 1-13, 2-153,3-200, 4-210, 5-223, 6-234, 7-251, 8-318
Bengal bowling: Saxena 12-1-65-1, V.P. Singh 6-1-48-1, Ravikant Singh 4-0-38-1, Shukla 9-0-72-0, Nandi 7-0-37-0, Sandipan Das 10-0-51-5, Basu 2-0-17-0.
Keywords: N.K.P.Salve Trophy