India's batting stalwart Cheteshwar Pujara is relieved after scoring an unbeaten 201 off 383 balls for county side Sussex against Derbyshire, saying it is a "good start" for him as he strives to get back his India Test berth ahead of the busy season.
Pujara's underwhelming performances in the last season saw him being dropped from India's squad for the Sri Lanka Test series earlier this year and also being demoted in the latest central contracts' list from Grade A to Grade B.
Pujara saw an opportunity to get back into form by playing county cricket when Australia's Travis Head declared his inability to play for Sussex due to increased international commitments. He immediately agreed to sign a contract with them for the majority of the 2022 season.
Soon after helping Sussex draw the game against Derbyshire, Pujara indicated the double-century will help him in his Test endeavour.
"It has been (a while scoring a century). We haven't been playing a lot of first-class cricket due to Covid. But since first-class cricket has started even back home and have a big season coming ahead, I will be here for the entire summer. So, it's a good start and I am looking forward to the season because we have still got to do well in upcoming games," said Pujara.
Giving Pujara valuable company was Sussex captain Tom Haines, who himself struck 243 off 491 balls. The duo's stand of 351 runs meant that Sussex made 513/3 in 176.1 overs, ahead by 180 runs after being made to follow-on.
Pujara also became just the second Indian after former captain Mohammad Azharuddin to score a double-century in the County Championship.
"It means a lot to me. I was here a week before and even prepared back home. Once I was here and got out in the first innings, I was so disappointed. But I knew that I was batting well and wanted a big one. So, if it's your first game and you get a double hundred, it sets you up for the rest of the season," said Pujara in an interview on Sussex's Youtube channel.
Through his unbeaten 201 on his debut for Sussex, Pujara broke a run of 52 first-class innings without a century. His last first-class century came in January 2020 when he made a mammoth 248 against Karnataka in an Elite Group B match of Ranji Trophy 2019/20 season in Rajkot.
Between the two hundreds, Pujara scored 1518 runs in the red-ball format at an average of 30.36, including 14 half-centuries.
It was a perfect rescue act stitched by Pujara after Sussex were bowled out for 174 in 56.4 overs in the first innings, where the 34-year-old was bowled out for six. But in the second innings, Pujara brought his A-game out to save the match for Sussex alongside Haines.
"The day before yesterday, I spoke to the guys and told them that, 'Look, we are in trouble but it was time that we showed our character and how the team spirit is'. It's quite a good bunch of guys, quite talented; it's a young side and we learn from experience.
"The guys stood up and showed a lot of character. It wasn't easy for us because when you are following on, it's quite easy to get pulled down again. But the way (Tom) Haines and Ali (Orr) started, it set up a platform for us," explained Pujara on Sussex pulling off a heist.
Sussex's next match will be against Worcestershire at New Road in Worcester from April 21 to 24.