No cure for Karnataka's Pujara predicament

No cure for Karnataka's Pujara predicament

Cheteshwar Pujara slayed Karnataka's toothless attack with an unbeaten 162 on the opening day of their Ranji Trophy match on Saturday. PTI

Karnataka have found Saurashtra a hard nut to crack in the recent years. Three consecutive defeats, including a heart-breaking one in the Ranji Trophy semifinal last season, bears a testimony to how difficult an opposition Saurashtra have become for Karnataka. The latest battle maybe just a day old but indications are Karnataka may struggle to break free from that stranglehold unless something spectacular happens.

Poor bowling, inexperienced field placements and failure to build pressure for considerable amount of time coupled with superb knocks from nemesis Cheteshwar Pujara (162 batting, 238b, 17x4, 1x6) and Sheldon Jackson (99 batting, 191b, 4x4, 2x6) saw Saurashtra post a strong 296/2 in 90 overs at stumps in a Group B affair at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground.

Barring the opening hour where Karnataka pacers Ronit More and Prateek Jain bowled disciplined lines and length and a two-wicket burst from left-arm spinner J Suchith, the rest of the day belonged primarily to Pujara and Jackson, the latter playing the supporting actor role to perfection.

Pujara, who has had a sedate first-class season so far, seemed liked a man possessed from the time he strode onto bat. Like he always does, he took his time initially to get his eye in and the moment he got a measure of the bowling and the pitch, he changed character completely to destroy a toothless Karnataka bowling.

The intention to attack was visible just minutes before lunch when he stepped out thrice to spinners Suchith and Shreyas, carting them for boundaries on all three occasions. It’s not the Pujara one is accustomed to seeing, risking things with a break in sight. But, confident of his footwork, the 31-year-old took the gamble and in fact continued with the same approach and intent even after lunch.

He kept using his feet, playing crunching shots through the deep midwicket and cover region, and when pitched short he was quick to rock back and deposit them for boundaries. The continued offensive caught Karnataka unawares and the attack lacking experience — seasoned pacer Abhimanyu Mithun was rested as part of injury management — the visitors just lost their bearings.

An hour after lunch Shreyas, standing in just his second Ranji Trophy game as captain, spread out the field in hope of limiting the boundary flow. But with his bowlers, including him, dishing out rubbish balls frequently, that plan went bust. Also with no close-in fielders, there was hardly any pressure on Pujara and Jackson and the duo, who shared a match-winning 214-run stand in the semifinal last year, batted with utmost comfort, posting an unbroken 263-run partnership here.

Pujara, batting well this season but with no century to boast, made the most of the chance on offer, scoring his 50th first-class ton. Even after he got there, he didn’t throw his wicket away but continued to bat with authority to put his side in a dominant position.

While Pujara indeed is the hero of the day, a word of praise for the seasoned Jackson. He didn’t get distracted by Pujara’s destruction but batted in his own inimitable style. He only got stuck in the nervous 90s which almost cost his wicket while on 98. But with wicketkeeper BR Sharath grassing a straightforward chance, Jackson got a huge lifeline and he’ll be looking to make it count on Sunday.

Karnataka, though, need a special performance to turn this game around.

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