The comparisons were bound to come, for both Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have been outstanding for India in their own ways. That it took slightly longer than expected is perhaps due to the absence of Cheteshwar Pujara from white-ball cricket. It was, therefore, not at all a surprise when Pujara was asked whether Virat Kohli can at some point of time can break his record in first-class cricket after Pujara joined an elite list by scoring his 50th century in first-class cricket in Ranji Trophy match against Karnataka.
The answer from Cheteshwar Pujara was as classic as his cover drives that goes along the carpet.
“He hasn’t played too many first-class games so you can’t even compare (our first-class records),” Pujara told ESPNCricinfo. “He (Kohli) has achieved at the highest level and in all formats of the game, which is always higher than the first-class level. I mean if he has scored many tons at international level, it is always a proud moment. You can’t compare first-class records with ODI tons or even Test match centuries – (taking that into account) he is way ahead when you compare with other players,” added Pujara.
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.
Highlighting the importance of Test cricket, Pujara said it will always remain special. “Times are changing and white-ball cricket has become popular. But Test cricket is always special and it will always remain special. And let us hope it continues for as much time as possible,” said Pujara.
India’s No.3 also stated that it was important for young players to play enough first-class cricket to be ready for Tests.
“I am a believer that a player, before making [their] debut, should play enough domestic games before being given an opportunity in the Test team. I strongly believe that our first-class cricket is competitive and the guys who have scored runs in Ranji Trophy, for example Hanuma Vihari and Mayank (Agarwal) – these guys were ready when they got their opportunity (to play Test cricket). The same applies to a bowler as well. Take (Shahbaz) Nadeem – he was ready for the international level. Playing Ranji Trophy and performing there should be appreciated and that is the process BCCI is following,” he said.