Saurashtra look to cross final frontier

Saurashtra look to cross final frontier

RUN-MACHINES: Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara and Vidarbha's Wasim Jaffer greet each other on the eve of their Ranji Trophy final at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur. PTI

Shutterbugs went into an overdrive when Cheteshwar Pujara and Wasim Jaffer caught up for a brief chat during the simultaneous practice sessions of Vidarbha and Saurashtra ahead of their Ranji Trophy summit clash here at the VCA Stadium on a pleasant Saturday morning.

Jaffer, a domestic run machine, has topped 1000 runs for the season and is only behind former Delhi batsman Milind Kumar who gathered 1331 runs playing for Sikkim this year. Jaffer has left behind his younger team-mates like skipper Faiz Fazal (726), Akhshay Wadkar (680) and Ganesh Satish (440) way behind in the run charts. The former Mumbai batsman, who will turn 41 in two weeks, has shown an insatiable hunger for runs and has been a driving force behind defending champions Vidarbha’s run to their second successive final.

Pujara wasn’t around when Saurashtra, making most of their home matches, made the knockouts under skipper Jaydev Unadkat who took over the reins mid-way through the season after long-standing skipper Jaydev Shah announced his retirement.

The likes of Sheldon Jackson (838), Harvik Desai (763) and Snell Patel (646) have held their batting together while Unadkat (35) and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (52) have bagged wickets by the bucketful to script Saurashtra’s stirring run to their third final in seven years. Though they had most of their bases covered, the addition of Pujara, fresh from his headline-grabbing batting in Australia, has provided a new dimension to Saurashtra as an outfit. And his match-winning century against Karnataka in the semifinal in Bengaluru was a reaffirmation of his class and commitment to Saurashtra’s cause.

Jaffer and Pujara bring to the table more than just their batting prowess. They are inspirational leaders without the tag of captain opposite their names. Their vast experience, their tactical nous and their calming influence provide an extra edge to their respective sides.

Pujara and Saurashtra, still without the premier national title, will be determined to set the record straight while Jaffer, already a multiple Ranji winner with Mumbai, and Vidarbha will be eager to leave behind a legacy.

Pujara-Jaffer’s isn’t the only sub-plot in this battle of hinterland teams. Pacemen Umesh Yadav, who has taken 21 wickets in just two matches since his return from Australia, and the in-form Unadkat too will make for an interesting duel. Umesh is a proven customer on Indian pitches even at the highest level while Unadkat has developed into a skilful left-arm pacer over the last few years. And as such, Umesh will be gunning for the prized scalp of Pujara while Unadkat will be looking to cut short Jaffer’s stay in the middle to give their respective sides some psychological edge.

While these are obviously the prime protagonists of the clash, be prepared for other characters to steal the spotlight. On what appears to be a good five-day surface with the natural wear and tear expected to add twists and turns to the tale, spinners may have a big role to play as well.      

Vidarbha, winners in their very first final appearance, are banking on big-match winning experience and the positive vibe of VCA’s Jamtha Stadium where they have remained unbeaten for two seasons. It’s a fortress Saurashtra will be hoping to conquer and break the jinx.