Cheteshwar Pujara’s skill and perseverance have taken Saurashtra to the Ranji Trophy final. Yes, Karnataka didn’t have the rub of the green, but in the end, every Karnataka player was congratulating the mainstay of the Saurashtra batting.
Pujara’s old-school batting helped his team pull off a memorable chase.
In the past two months, since the start of the Australia Test series, Pujara has scored 775 runs and faced 1,761 balls. This epic streak has helped India win their first Test series in Australia and now taken Saurashtra to the final, where Pujara is expected to meet his match, domestic cricket-wise.
Wasim Jaffer, Vidarbha’s unofficial team mentor, has already scored over 1,000 runs, including four hundreds, this Ranji season. The veteran has faced 1,639 balls.
Pujara, in the last two matches he played, faced 503 deliveries and scored 254 runs including an unbeaten half-century in the quarterfinal against Uttar Pradesh and 131 not out in the semifinal against Karnataka. Pujara returned to the Ranji circuit inside seven days of coming back from a four-Test series in Australia, where he had faced a jaw-dropping 1,258 balls and hit three centuries.
It made him a cult hero even in Australia. Former selector turned talent manager Jamie Cox summed up the Pujara impact, saying: “Pujara’s summer could well change the batting curriculum of Australia.” Former England captain Nasser Hussain had spoken about how Joe Root’s team needed a No. 3 “of the Pujara kind”.
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Pujara, along with Jaffer, is refreshingly bringing old-school batting back in vogue. And the best part is that even teenagers like Shubman Gill are falling for it, mentioning that “1,258 deliveries” have become a new benchmark for youngsters who aspire to play for the country. That both Pujara and Jaffer would feature in the title showdown is a great advertisement for the Ranji Trophy.
Pujara’s match-winning knock in the second innings wasn’t flawless. A heady edge on 34 against Vinay Kumar was given not out by the umpire. Pujara was well within his rights not to walk. He was playing a Ranji Trophy semifinal, not a ‘Gentlemen-versus-Players’ game. His team’s fortunes depended on him. A section of the fans who barracked one of the game’s most dignified servants should be ashamed of the word they used.
Spare a thought for Sheldon Jackson. He, too, played a brilliant hand in Saurashtra’s victory over Karnataka. Jackson and Pujara picked up the pieces from 23/3 and stitched a 214-run fourth wicket partnership at the second dig. Only in the last match they had paired up for an unbroken 136-run fifth wicket stand to overcome 372 in the fourth innings against Uttar Pradesh, the highest successful chase in the history of the Ranji Trophy.
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