To find a three-figure score against Chetestwahar Pujara’s name, you’ll have to scroll back to 2019, when he scored a valiant 193 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia. Pujara’s obdurate approach played a crucial role in India’s triumph back then, but the run-scoring spree soon deserted him. Make no mistake, Pujara once again rose up to the occasion on the next tour, but there were no big scores to show for it. 

The lean patch extended for long enough to test the selector’s patience. Unlike Virat Kohli, there was no pattern to his dismissals, as he kept finding different ways to get out. Moreover, his time-honoured approach of tiring out the bowlers was never going to work in England, where excessive lateral movements make it difficult for any batters to stick on the crease.

Admittedly, Pujara did look more proactive, managed two 50+ scores, including 91 at Leeds, and seemed to be on his way back into the form. But the next couple of series, against New Zealand and South Africa, proved otherwise. There was simply no end to Pujara’s woeful run, and a string of ordinary scores in South Africa meant he had run his course. 

Pujara was not alone though. Ajinkya Rahane too lost his place. But as India prepares to face England in the rescheduled test next month, only one of them will find their name on the teamsheet. And much of it has to do with the contrasting routes they took after being dropped. While Rahane preferred the IPL, Pujara, after getting overlooked in the auction, joined Saurashtra’s Ranji squad. He looked at ease on the crease, hardly put a wrong foot forward, made a slight tweak to his backswing, and also scored an uncharacteristically aggressive 91 against Mumbai.

“I played three games for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy. Even there, I found my rhythm and I knew that I was batting well,” said Pujara to BCCI.

“It was about getting a big score and so when I had that in my first game, I knew that everything is back to normal now. [I was] finding my footwork, the back lift was coming along well.”

Pujara also joined Sussex for the County Championship, where he amassed 720 runs in five games at a stellar average of 120. He started the campaign with a paltry score of 6, but then ended up slamming 201 in the next innings. Pujara registered four centuries in as many games, including an unbeaten 170 against Middlesex’s imperious pace attack. He was also involved in an interesting duel with Shaheen Shah Afridi, smashing an imperious six off a short-pitched delivery. 

“It’s about playing as many first-class games as possible and for me, that experience was very important. When you want to get back into form, when you want to find your rhythm, when you have that concentration, it is important to play some long innings,” Pujara added.

The 34-year-old felt he was back in the rhythm as soon as he played a big knock against Derbyshire. “So, when I was playing for Sussex, I could do that. When I had my first big knock against Derby, then I felt that my rhythm was back, my concentration and everything was falling in place. Yeah, I had a very good time with Sussex,” he added.

Earlier, Pujara also talked about how a national comeback was the last thing on his mind, when he joined Sussex. He went there with the sole aim of “trying to find my old form.” For a player who always looked like he was just a step away from hitting the purple patch, one good innings is all it takes to return back to the form. After a double century against Derbyshire, Pujara, in his next six innings, managed 109, 12, 203, 16, 170, and 3. 

These scores convinced the team management to bring him back to the side. With the decider against England scheduled to take place in a few days, Pujara’s experience of playing for Sussex will definitely come in handy for India.

Featured Image Credit: BCCI