Cheteshwar Pujara’s brilliant century, combined with a solid ton from Sheldon Jackson helped Saurashtra beat Karnataka by five wickets in the semi-final of the Ranji Trophy tournament at the M Chinnaswamy stadium on Monday to set-up a final clash with defending champions Vidarbha, who routed Kerala in the other semi-final. The summit clash will take place on February 3 at the VCA stadium in Jamtha. Pujara and Jackson came at a time when Saurashtra were reeling at 23/3 and their centuries resulted in a 214-run stand which gave them a tense win. Pujara’s golden form continued and his knock was the basis on which Saurashtra entered their third Ranji Trophy final.
Resuming the final day with 55 runs needed, Jackson notched up a superb century but on immediately getting to the landmark, Vinay Kumar got a delivery to shoot through low and the batsman was cleaned up. Pujara, though, held firm and Karnataka were unable to dislodge him. Arpit Vasavada shared a stand which got Saurashtra closer but when he fell to Ronit More for 12, it was too late for Karnataka and Prerak Mankad notched up the winning runs. Pujara was the Man of the Match for his brilliant 131*.
Speaking after the end of the match, Pujara said the team had belief that they could chase the total down. “The partnership (with Jackson) was crucial. Once the ball gets old, it's easier to bat and that's what happened. We are doing well, especially in the fourth innings. Little disappointed with the way we batted in the first innings. Credit goes to our bowlers the way they bowled in the second innings. We were confident of chasing it down. We have a good team, we'll look to continue the same performance,” Pujara said.
The Saurashtra batsman was involved in a moment of controversy on day 4 when he did not walk after he had edged an away-swinger from Vinay Kumar. The umpire did not give it out and that incensed the crowd at the stadium, booing Pujara and calling him ‘cheater’ as the teams headed into the tea break. However, Jackson said the reactions did not bother them. “The more they were sledging us, the more firmer you get, the more you want to do it. This is the best I have got yet as I played totally against my game. I just followed what he (Pujara) said,” Jackson said.
Saurashtra’s opponent will be Vidarbha, the reigning champions who trounced Kerala in emphatic fashion in Wayanad. Kerala were bowled out for 106 in the first innings thanks to Umesh Yadav’s brilliant 7/48. Faiz Fazal’s 75 gave Vidarbha a 102-run lead and Kerala fared even worse in the second innings, getting bowled out for 91 with Umesh taking 5/31 and ending with match figures of 12/79, his best figures in his First Class career.
With both teams in the final, the duel between Umesh and Pujara could be a welcome sight for all cricket fans. While Vidarbha will be aiming to retain the title, Saurashtra would be hoping third time is the charm, having lost the two finals to Mumbai in 2013 and 2016.