There is no denying that the home supporters coming into the Chinnaswamy stadium on Sunday to cheer Karnataka would have had Cheteshwar Pujara at the back of their minds.
Karnataka had nudged ahead in the contest thanks to the spirited show from Shreyas Gopal and Abhimanyu Mithun with the bat. A target of 279 is a daunting one and this was the Ranji Trophy semifinal, a match that generates huge pressure. But for Karnataka, the eight-time champions and their fans, their worst nightmare came true on the fourth day of the game.
Cheteshwar Pujara (108 not out, 216b, 14x4), a man who has a special liking for Karnataka, once again stood tall for Saurashtra to all but seal their place in the final. His outstanding unbroken 201-run stand with Sheldon Jackson (90 not out, 204b, 13x4) helped the visitors reach 224/3. It leaves Jaydev Unadkat's men just 55 runs away from facing Vidarbha in the title clash.
Pujara is a batsman with great will power. But in this game, he is also a player with good luck. The India batsman, who celebrated his birthday a couple of days back, continued to receive gifts. Umpire Khalid Hussen Saiyyed, whose howler in the first innings saw Pujara survive on the score of 1, was generous again.
In the second over after lunch, the scene that unfolded was familiar: a noise as the ball passed the bat and reached the gloves of wicketkeeper Sharath Srinivas. Bowler R Vinay Kumar and his team-mates erupted in joy but the umpire ruled out a caught behind dismissal. Pujara stood unflinched and Karnataka players stood shell shocked.
Replays showed the ball nicked the bat and Pujara was on 34 at that moment. Would the match have titled in the favour of Karnataka if Pujara was dismissed? Largely, yes. But the Saurashtra veteran went about his job like he has done many times in the past. A master of long innings, Pujara made sure he never offered another chance.
He excellently guided Sheldon, who was all at sea early on. Sheldon too cashed in on his chance. In the 14th over, the right-hander appeared plumb in front of a delivery from More but on field umpire Ullas Gandhe turned another vociferous appeal from the Karnataka players. Sheldon had scored just one run then.
The Karnataka pace trio of Ronit More (0/44), Abhimanyu Mithun (1/35) and Vinay Kumar (2/48) gave their heart out.
Earlier, Karnataka, who resumed from 237/8, 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.