Pujara milestone marks Saurashtra entry to semis
Young star smashes triple century
For 205 minutes on Thursday, BB Nimbalkar’s 65-year-old record for the highest individual score in Ranji Trophy was under threat but the mark stood unhindered.
Cheteshwar Pujara, overnight 261, was permitted to play the final day of the quarterfinals against Karnataka at the University of Saurashtra ground despite being drafted into the India one-day squad against England, because the right-hander was on the verge of a memorable triple century -- a feat he completed with minimum fuss (352, 548m, 427b, 49x4, 1x6).
Once reached the coveted mark, Pujara set his eyes on breaking the late Nimbalkar’s 443 not out, ironically set against Kathiawar (former Saurashtra) in the 1948-49 season at Pune, and his determination to achieve that unique record was evident when he checked with match referee Manu Nayyar about the highest score in Ranji Trophy before the start of play.
But it wasn’t the fiery Pujara, who scored at a strike-rate of over 90 on Wednesday, on view. It was quite understandable as all Saurashtra had to do on the fifth day of the match was to play out the last three sessions after having assured themselves a semifinals berth by securing a 536-run lead at the end of the fourth day itself. On the day, they did just that amassing 718 for nine in 167 overs to earn a last four date with Punjab on January 16 at home.
Back to Pujara’s innings, the only blemish was the chance he offered to Manish Pandey, and the Karnataka youngster duly dropped it at backward short-leg. Then on 309, Pujara rode out a brief period of uncertanity before switching gears to reach 350 in quick time. Two runs later, a small crowd which had gathered to witness the grand feat was left shell-shocked.
Taking guard against K Gowtham (4/206), bowling from the Pavilion end, Pujara looked set to dominate the bowler, who had improved a great deal since Wednesday, but was still no match for Pujara’s skill against spin. Gowtham threw one up and drew Pujara forward.
With bulk of the fielders placed on the leg side, Pujara looked to drive the ball through the extra cover but much to his surprise the ball spun sharply and sneaked through his defences to rattle the middle stump, bringing an end to a superb innings.
While everyone at the venue watched him in mute awe, the 24-year-old glanced back at the scattered woodwork, looked heavenwards, and then walked back to the hut. He might have failed to overhaul Nimbalkar’s mark, but his 352 was the highest individual score for Saurashtra and sixth highest in the Ranji history.
Pujara and Sheldon Jackson (117, 324m, 207b, 13x4, 1x6), who had added 343 for the fourth wicket, guided Saurashtra to a mammoth 646 for seven before Kamlesh Makwana (65 n.o., 115m, 93b, 9x4, 1x6) rubbed salt to Karnataka’s wounds with a quick knock when when the umpires called off the game before the start of the mandatory overs (3.00 pm).
Karnataka, who put on a sorry display of bowling the previous day, that led to Saurashtra scoring a stunning 463/3 runs in 90 overs, were much better on the day but they still were no match for Saurashtra batsmen. The fact that Makwana and last-man Jaydev Unadkat (9) played them out with ease for an hour before close offered a testimony to their ineffectiveness.
So, Karnataka’s campaign in this year’s Ranji Trophy has ended, and they have no one to blame but themselves.