Cheteshwar Pujara has started the year by joining a select band of cricketing greats. On Saturday, he scored his 50th first-class century, in the Ranji Trophy match against Karnataka at his home ground in Rajkot, thereby joining an elite list of nine Indians led by Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
The significance of the landmark can be gauged from the fact that Pujara is fifth on the list of active players with most first-class centuries: behind Essex and England great Alastair Cook (65), former England batsman Ian Bell (57), former South Africa captain Hashim Amla (52), who will be playing for Surrey from the next season, and former India opener and Mumbai stalwart Wasim Jaffer (57), who now plays for Vidarbha as a professional. At 31, Pujara is the youngest in this list.
Among current active Test players, the nearest contender to Pujara is Australia's Steven Smith, who has 42 first-class centuries. Pujara's India team-mates Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane linger in the distance with 34 and 32 first-class centuries respectively.
The Karnataka match is the fourth game Pujara has played in this Ranji season. In the previous matches, Pujara made two half-centuries, against Uttar Pradesh and Railways respectively.
Against Karnataka on Saturday, Pujara walked in at 28 for 1 in the first session and began slowly before accelerating towards his century and beyond. He finished the day unbeaten on 162 as Saurashtra ended the opening day on 296 for 2.
Pujara has been the biggest thorn for Karnataka in the last decade and even denied them a finals entry during the 2018-19 Ranji knockouts with a century in what was a bitter tussle involving controversial umpiring decisions.
Prior to this match, Pujara had 945 runs in 13 innings at an average of 94.50 against Karnataka. His highest first-class score of 352 not out was also against them at the same venue - Madhavrao Scindia Stadium - during the 2012-13 Ranji quarter-finals.