Saurashtra Saurashtra 236 and 224 for 3 (Pujara 108*, Jackson 90*, Vinay 2-48) need another 55 runs to beat Karnataka 275 and 239 (Shreyas 61, Agarwal 46, Jadeja 5-78)
The sub-plot of a second caught-behind appeal against Cheteshwar Pujara not given by the on-field umpire threatened to overshadow an exemplary partnership between him and Sheldon Jackson, but at the end of the fourth day's play, Saurashtra had marched inexorably towards the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 final.
Saurashtra were in a deep hole at 3 for 2, and then 23 for 3, when Jackson joined Pujara. Both men ground Karnataka to dust, and stayed unseparated for the rest of the day to take Saurashtra to 224 for 3 at stumps, just 55 runs away from victory.
Pujara was batting on a serene 108, with Jackson on 90 in a partnership that's been worth 201 runs so far. Pujara's concentration and deft use of hands was the calm pillar around which Saurashtra built their chase, while Jackson showed equal composure in dealing with the Karnataka bowlers.
Their partnership wasn't without incident though. A passionate 1000-plus strong crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium made its displeasure vocal, as Pujara's fifty was greeted with boos. When both batsmen walked in for lunch, tea and stumps, there was a vociferous chant of "Cheater, cheater". It stemmed from a caught-behind decision that was turned down by umpire Saiyed Khalid in the 25th over, the second over after lunch. Vinay Kumar got one to shape away from Pujara, and the batsman was drawn into a push. On replays, there was an audible sound as the ball passed bat, though it was impossible to say without the aid of technology if that was indeed a sound made by ball hitting bat.
Pujara, on 34 then, appeared unmoved even as Vinay and the Karnataka fielders almost pleaded with the umpire, but to no avail. Saurashtra were still on their lunch score of 68 for 3 at that stage. This followed from Saurashtra's first innings, where too a confident appeal for caught behind had been turned down against Pujara.
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That moment apart, Pujara was in supreme control during his innings. He nudged and pushed the ball into gaps as is his wont, played close to his body, and capitalised on anything too full with leg-side flicks. Even when he pushed at the ball he did so with soft hands, ensuring that the rare edge didn't carry. He had started with a more attacking mindset. Getting the shine off the ball and riding out the first session has been key in this match, and Pujara's initial aggression could have been an attempt to counter that. Once Harvik Desai became the third wicket to fall, caught brilliantly by KV Siddharth diving to his right at gully, Pujara reverted to caution.
In Jackson, he found the perfect ally. He has been Saurashtra's leading run-getter this season, with his tally at 828 runs now, and he showed excellent temperament. He didn't try to rush the spinners, even when their bowling wasn't particularly threatening, and had a straight bat to the seamers, keeping the ball out. As he settled, he did play a few more shots, but kept the ball along the ground. His judgment of length held him in good stead, as he cut and drove with precision.
The same pair had put on an unbroken 136 in Saurashtra's quarter-final win against Uttar Pradesh, when the team chased down a Ranji record 372 in the fourth innings.
At the start, left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja had wrapped up Karnataka's innings in his first over, the second of the day. Shreyas Gopal couldn't add to his overnight 61 and was caught off a leading edge, while last man Ronit More was trapped in front as Karnataka were bowled out for 239, setting Saurashtra 279 to win.
It wasn't going to be an easy chase on a fourth-day pitch that had already seen uneven bounce on the first three days, but Saurashtra had the confidence of their quarter-final chase, albeit on a much truer surface. That confidence didn't count for much when three wickets fell in the first six overs, but the team's two most pedigreed batsmen then rose to the occasion to put them on the brink of a third Ranji final in six years.