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Ranji Trophy: Cheteshwar Pujara illness keeps Saurashtra-Bengal final in balance

Saurashtra need a special from their star as a score of 350 on this low-slow pitch, where bowling within the line of the stumps seems an effective strategy, could put great pressure on Bengal.

Written by Devendra Pandey |
Updated: March 10, 2020 11:08:48 am
Cheteshwar Pujara needs to play a special knock tomorrow. (AP Photo)

Cheteshwar Pujara’s illness, the pitch, Anustup Majumdar’s injury, and a ball change were the highlights of an engrossing opening day of the Ranji Trophy final. Everybody was waiting for Pujara to walk out when Saurashtra’s second wicket fell at 113 in the 49th over on an interesting pitch, but the India Test specialist didn’t. He only emerged in the final session after the fourth wicket fell at 182. A throat infection overnight had turned to dizziness and fever and Pujara, who was seen padded up during the national anthem before start of play, not only batted late but retired hurt after facing 24 balls when he began to feel feverish again.

The Saurashtra camp believes that Pujara will come out to bat on the second day – at 206 for 5, they need a special from their star as a score of 350 in the first innings on this low-slow pitch, where bowling within the line of the stumps seems an effective strategy, could put great pressure on Bengal. Incidentally, the visitors would be sweating over their middle-order batsman and crisis man Anustup Majumdar after he suffered a painful blow to his right thumb, and coach Arun Lal admitted it doesn’t look good.

READ | Arun Lal fumes at slow, low pitch

At tea, despite Pujara’s illness, Saurashtra would have felt they were on their way to their usual bundle of tricks at Rajkot. They had reached 155 for 2 on a pitch that blunted the Bengal fast bowlers to an extent and their own seamers, led by skipper Jaydev Unadkat, had intimate knowledge of what works on such tracks which are also likely to take turn later in the game.

Things progressed satisfactorily for them on resumption of play in the final session but it all turned in the 65th over. The umpires relented to the complaints from the bowlers that the ball had gone out of shape and changed it with a suitably-old replacement. This one provided some conventional movement and Bengal swooped in, buoyed also by Pujara’s return to the pavilion.

Akash Deep got one to move back in and Vishvarajsinh Jadeja, who was batting on 54, hung back and left a bat-and-pad gap for the ball to crash his stumps. Jadeja had batted well until then, showing intent to score and finding gaps. He slammed three fours off left-arm spinner Shadab Ahmed, who bowled 23 overs, and pulled Ishan Porel.

Saurashtra had batted cautiously at the start, reaching 77 without any loss in 35 overs at lunch. No one outside the Saurashtra camp had known about Pujara’s illness as it was a developing situation inside the dressing room.

READ | Chance of a lifetime for Bengal, Saurashtra

Openers Harvik Desai and Avi Barot soldiered on though Bengal did reprieve both of them. It was in an attempt to catch Desai on 22 that Majumdar hurt himself, a situation that could come back to really hamper Bengal.

Pujara came to bat after Sheldon Jackson was trapped lbw by a nip-backer from Bengal’s spearhead Ishan Porel. Pujara whipped a four off his legs but called the physio after 24 balls. He had a sip of water, chatted briefly with the physio before walking back. Akash Deep soon prised out next man Chetan Sakaria to leave the game in balance.

READ | Chirag Jani, who makes Saurashtra tick with bat and ball

Once they sussed out the pitch, the Bengal bowling got better – they started to attack the stumps and got some movement in the final session. Also, a bit of variable bounce was already on offer. Batting could be hard work, if not downright tricky, as the game progresses and home advantage, the familiarity and knowledge of how to bowl and bat on this surface, could come really handy. Especially, if Bengal do end up losing Majumdar, who has been their main troubleshooter this season.

The game was poised nicely at stumps. Would Pujara be fit enough to drag them towards 350, another almost 150 runs more for the last five wickets, and allow his bowlers to attack Bengal on this pitch?

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