During his knock of 83, Cheteshwar Pujara eclipsed Chandu Borde's haul of 1604 runs in the 1964-65 season to record the most runs scored in an Indian first-class season. © BCCI

It’s IPL time now, and Pujara is superfluous to the T20 version – it must hurt any cricketer worth his salt to be unwanted in one format despite his wonderful run in another, but there is very little Pujara can do about it. © BCCI

Cheteshwar Pujara was India’s most consistent, and prolific, batsman throughout the gruelling home season of 13 Tests. The unprecedented windfall of home Tests gave India the opportunity to first climb to the No. 1 ranking, and then cement that status. India ticked all the boxes to open up a fair distance between them and second-ranked South Africa on the back of 10 Test wins and victories in all four series, with the dependable Saurashtra No. 3 the bedrock of their batting exploits.

With 1316 runs from those 13 Tests, Pujara has now stacked up more runs in a single season than any other Indian batsman. He warmed up with a solid display against New Zealand, kicked his game up a notch or two against England and then rounded things off with a third double-century in the gripping series against Australia to leave no one in any doubt about who is India’s best Test batsman currently.

And yet, for all his soul-stirring exploits and calming presence from the fall of the first wicket onwards, Pujara will seep out of public consciousness for the next two months. At the very least.

For many years now, several legends of Indian cricket have advocated rewarding the Test specialists handsomely in keeping with the degree of difficulty of the five-day game. In heeding their words as well as doubling the retainership amount to Rs 2 crore, the BCCI have shown that their heart is in the right place.

After all, it is Indian Premier League time now, and Pujara is superfluous to the Twenty20 version. It has been thus for a while now, and while it must hurt any cricketer worth his salt to be not wanted in one format despite his wonderful run in another, there is very little Pujara can do about it.

It is not in his hands, of course. He can scream from the rooftops, and rave and rant — were he that sort, which he isn’t – but it will get him nowhere. The Twenty20 game is an entirely different beast that places demands which, franchises seem convinced, Pujara will not be able to meet. It doesn’t make Pujara any less of a batsman or a cricketer; if anything, it should steel him to greater things in the one format where his credentials are unquestionable, and that’s exactly what he has been doing for a long time.

From reluctant practitioners of cricket’s newest, most unforgiving version, India have now graduated to staging the world’s most lucrative, widely followed and eagerly anticipated Twenty20 league. It’s a measure of the reach and the popularity of the tournament that brings the majority of the world’s best players on a single platform that, despite the scandals and sometimes murky goings-on, it still continues to attract eyeballs and is able to move ahead without so much as a hiccup. Season 10, which is less than a week away, might be lukewarm to start with, especially in the wake of the heady hangover from the Test surfeit, but as the tournament gathers steam, so will the interest of the fans.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has been accused of many things in the last few years, the accusations gathering a force that is directly proportional both to the BCCI’s growing clout as a financial powerhouse and to the team’s successes across formats. Some of the allegations can’t be wished away – the administrators’ hunger for power, their unwillingness to delegate, their stubbornness when it comes to following court orders – but many of them are baseless. Such as the charge that the BCCI, driven by its lust for the greenbacks, is so obsessed with 20-over cricket in the main, and the 50-over game to a lesser extent, that they can’t be bothered about Test cricket.

Bangar likened the Headingley win of 2002 with the Lord’s triumph and felt that Pujara (L), who batted for 169 minutes in the first innings, did a tremendous job of negating the new ball threat. © AFP

The BCCI have sent out a strong message by placing Pujara and Vijay, both Test specialists though not by choice, in the top category in the central contracts. © AFP

It’s against this backdrop that the 13-Test home season must be viewed. In six months between the end of September and the last week of March. If that doesn’t portray a commitment to the longest format of the game, then nothing else will. It is unlikely that, at any stage in the near future, there will be as many home Tests in a single season, but India are to travel to South Africa later this year, and then to England, Australia and New Zealand in the following 15 months, all to play Test cricket.

Playing Test cricket is one thing, rewarding the Test specialists is quite another, and that is where the BCCI have sent out a strong message as well – that they are seized of protecting, nurturing and encouraging those who are considered good enough only for Tests. Foremost in that category are Pujara and M Vijay, who has established himself as one of the best openers to have played for the country and who has upwards of 50 appearances in a format in which he has only been a permanent fixture since March 2013.

It has been a little over a week since the latest central contracts were announced, way beyond schedule, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Pujara and Vijay bracketed in the top pool of seven players with an annual retainership of Rs 2 crore. Hitherto, the top shelf has only been occupied by all-format players; those who are specialists in one format or the other, no matter how good they might be in that chosen format, have tended to be placed in the second-highest category. But in the band of seven this time around, there are only four all-format stars – Virat Kohli, needless to say, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane.

No one can argue with the merits of these four players, even if Rahane is increasingly only there and thereabouts when it comes to white-ball cricket. Vijay and Pujara are joined in that seven-member group by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former skipper who is now retired from Test cricket, but is a crucial component of the limited-overs sides despite giving up the captaincy at the start of the year.

© BCCI

For all his soul-stirring exploits and calming presence in India’s long and successful Test season, Pujara will seep out of public consciousness for at least the next two months. © BCCI

Some might point out that, for his accomplishments over all these years, Dhoni simply had to be accommodated in the elite group even if he didn’t play the longest format any longer. That, therefore, Pujara and Vijay had to be treated likewise. While that theory isn’t entirely without logic, different yardsticks have been used for different players in the past. All told, Dhoni is a special and unique case, and had he been clubbed in Group A and Pujara and Vijay in the next category, not a murmur would have been heard.

And yet, here all three are, not just in one bracket but in the same top bracket. For someone like Pujara who doesn’t even merit consideration by franchises, that must be a huge shot in the arm. It isn’t so much an ego-boost as the confidence and delight stemming from the knowledge that his contributions in the most demanding, challenging format are being recognised and honoured. That while he may not enthral the fans like the Twenty20 heroes do, the men that matter value his presence and his volume of runs, much like they do Vijay’s in the equally arduous task of fronting the new ball.

For many years now, several legends of Indian cricket have advocated rewarding the Test specialists handsomely in keeping with the degree of difficulty of the five-day game. In heeding their words as well as doubling the retainership amount to Rs 2 crore, the BCCI have shown that their heart is in the right place.

The hiking of the match fee for a Test to Rs 15 lakh, which is two-and-a-half times more than what it is for a One-Day International and five times more than for a Twenty20 International, is another welcome development. For far too long, certain players have ‘preserved’ themselves by getting conveniently injured during the international season and miraculously regaining fitness during the time of the IPL. The current numbers, and the judicious distribution of these figures, should be the ultimate message that their bluff has been called. Quite unequivocally.