YORKSHIRE can boast three of the world’s top-six batsmen after re-signing India’s Cheteshwar Pujara.
Pujara, ranked sixth in the International Cricket Council Test rankings, will share overseas duties next season with New Zealand captain Kane Williamson (ranked fourth).
They are joined on the Headingley staff by England captain Joe Root, who is ranked third behind Australia captain Steve Smith and India captain Virat Kohli.
Although Root’s county opportunities will naturally be limited by the international summer, the signings of Pujara and Williamson highlight Yorkshire’s ambition to improve a batting department that has lately struggled.
It also maintains their strategy of trying to forge ongoing links with overseas players, with Pujara having represented the club in 2015, when he scored 264 runs in four County Championship games at an average of 52, and Williamson returning for a fourth spell.
“I’m really excited to be able to have the opportunity to represent Yorkshire once again,” said Pujara, who turned 30 last week.
“It’s always nice to be able to come over here and play some county cricket, and I’m just as excited as I was last time to represent the club.
“I love the passion the people of Yorkshire have for the game, and they made me feel very welcome. I’ll just try to play my natural game and score plenty of runs.”
An old-fashioned batsman, with a patient style and an insatiable appetite (he has three first-class triple centuries to his name and nine doubles), Pujara brings oodles of skill and experience.
Last week, he helped India to victory on a testing pitch against South Africa in Johannesburg, scoring a vital first-innings half-century having grafted 54 balls to get off the mark.
Pujara played three Championship matches for Derbyshire in 2014, scoring 219 runs at 54, and although he struggled somewhat at Notts last summer, making 333 runs in eight Championship games at 27, his Test average of 50 speaks for itself. The right-hander also averages over 50 in one-day cricket.
Pujara’s first match is set to be the season-opener against Leeds-Bradford MCCU at Emerald Headingley, starting on April 7. He will play the first five Championship games before returning home for a one-off Test against Afghanistan in Bengaluru (June 14-18), a match arranged after Yorkshire initially negotiated a deal they have now confirmed after the player was overlooked in the Indian Premier League auction.
It is anticipated that Pujara, who is also available for the first seven of Yorkshire’s eight group games in the 50-over Royal London Cup, will return after the Afghanistan Test for Yorkshire’s sixth and seventh Championship matches too, against Hampshire at Southampton and Surrey at Scarborough.
Although he would miss any Royal London Cup quarter-final/semi-final, he would be available for the final on June 30 – the day his Yorkshire contract ends.
It’s always nice to be able to come over here and play some county cricket, and I’m just as excited as I was last time to represent the club.Cheteshwar Pujara
However, after then representing India in the five-Test series in England starting on August 1, Pujara could also return for the last two Championship games, against Hampshire at Headingley and Worcestershire at New Road.
With Williamson pencilled in to play four Championship games (Lancashire at Old Trafford, Worcestershire at Scarborough, Somerset at Headingley and Notts at Trent Bridge), it means that Yorkshire, in a best-case scenario, would have overseas cover for all but one of their 14 Championship games – the Roses match at Headingley (September 10-13).
Williamson is also available for the last 11 of Yorkshire’s 14 NatWest T20 Blast group games, starting at Durham on July 13.