Pujara puts Saurashtra on top

Karnataka's R Vinay Kumar (centre) along with his team-mates unsuccessfully appeal for a caught-behind verdict against Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara during their Ranji Trophy semifinal at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R

Frustration was the order of the day for Karnataka here at the M Chinnaswamy stadium. A courageous partnership from two experienced opposition batsmen, a couple of umpiring howlers and their sloppy effort on the field left the hosts down and dejected.

By the end of Sunday’s fourth day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal, Karnataka had been put on the brink of elimination. An outstanding unbroken stand of 201 runs between Cheteshwar Pujara (108 n.o., 216b, 14x4) and Sheldon Jackson (90 n.o., 204b, 13x4) helped the visitors reach 224/3 at stumps. It leaves Jaydev Unadkat’s men with the task of scoring just 55 runs to set up title clash with Vidarbha.

Earlier, Karnataka, who resumed from 237/8 in the morning, ahead by 276 runs, would have hoped to stretch their lead to at least 300. But the hosts could last just 12 balls as they folded after adding just two runs, setting a target of 279.

That target may have seemed insurmountable for the visiting team when R Vinay Kumar’s twin strikes and A Mithun’s dismissal of Harvik Desai left them reeling at 23/3 but Pujara and Jackson put the innings back on track with grit complemented well by umpire’s howlers.  

Pujara has a special liking for Karnataka. The India Test batsman is a player with great will power. But in this game, he has also been a player with good fortune. Pujara, who turned 31 two days ago, received his birthday bonus in the second over after lunch. Bowler Vinay and team-mates erupted in joy after the ball appeared to have taken a faint nick of Pujara’s willow before landing in the gloves of wicketkeeper Sharath Srinivas.

Umpire Khalid Hussen Saiyyed, whose howler in the first innings saw Pujara survive on the score of 1, was generous again. He ruled out the appeal for caught-behind. Batting on 34 at that moment, Pujara stood unflinched in front of a shell shocked Karnataka team. Television replays confirmed that the right-hander had received a reprieve.

Sheldon, all at sea early in his innings, too cashed in on his chance. In the 14th over, the right-hander appeared plumb in front of a delivery from Ronit More but on field umpire Ullas Gandhe turned down another vociferous appeal from the Karnataka players. Sheldon had scored just one run then. The right-hander curbed his natural busy-style-of-play to script a vital knock.

Pujara, a master of long innings, made sure he didn’t offer another chance. Post lunch, he survived a fiery first hour of pace bowling from Vinay and More. The veteran won the mental battle. Every run he managed, every boundary he scored and every hour he survived, was a huge dent on Karnataka’s confidence. He effortlessly drove anything offered on his pads, came down to the spinners and judiciously cut the short balls to script his 49th first-class ton.

Karnataka hurt themselves with their misfields and their spin combination of Shreyas Gopal (0/29) and K Gowtham (0/44) were far from effective. Shreyas injured himself while fielding in the deep while Gowtham had an ankle issue. It was the pace trio of Vinay, More and Mithun who gave their heart out. Their terrific effort had reduced Saurashtra to almost nothing for three at one stage before the visitors recovered.

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Pujara puts Saurashtra on top

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