Smart planning, smarter execution - how Vidarbha plotted Cheteshwar Pujara's fall

Cheteshwar Pujara walks back Getty Images

A well-laid plan and a bowler who could execute it to precision were the ingredients that gave Vidarbha Cheteshwar Pujara's prized wicket for just 1 in the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 final on Monday.

Pujara had come out with Saurashtra at 79 for 2 in reply to Vidarbha's 312, and the two best opposition bowlers were in operation: Umesh Yadav from the Secretary End, and Aditya Sarwate from the Pavilion End. Sarwate had bowled two spells of two overs each from the other end before changing, and had just dismissed Vishwaraj Jadeja, the batsman playing for the turn to the arm ball and trapped in front.

Pujara had one ball to face in the over, the 26th, which he came forward to, and it rolled off a thick bottom edge. Snell Patel didn't get off strike in Umesh's next over, and when Sarwate came back, a forward short leg was put in place immediately. A slip and silly point, placed smartly parallel to the stumps, were already there, and Vidarbha were telling Pujara that they were attacking both his outside and inside edges.

The silly-point fielder was almost a short gully, waiting to pouch anything that would fly off the outside edge, however softly Pujara might tap it. The close-in cordon showed how well Vidarbha's think tank, led by head coach Chandrakant Pandit, had read the pitch as well as the batsman - the bounce was low, and Pujara plays with soft hands, so the edges were not going to carry straight and high.

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To make the plan work, Sarwate bowled straight lines, and a length the forced the batsman to play him. Pujara had already jumped out of the crease a couple of times to defend, but had spotted the dangers. So he was trying to defend from the crease, but was still tentative. He played out a maiden.

In his next over, Sarwate maintained the same line of attack. The first ball, Pujara prodded towards short leg. The next one, he again lunged forward to defend, but then improvised to tap the ball just short of the close-in fielder on the off side. The slight bounce and turn might have created a sliver of doubt in Pujara's mind as he appeared to be in two minds trying to defend the next delivery. The ball had pitched on a length that drew him forward, but Pujara stopped midway, attempted to play it down, but the bounce meant a thick outside edge off the top of his bat and Wasim Jaffer neatly, and gleefully, accepted the offering.

"Pujara is the biggest wicket I've got," Sarwate said after the day's play. "We have watched him a lot, and we saw him on the Australia tour also. We felt that initially, he is a bit tentative, and he jabs at the ball. That is why we kept a short leg. If the odd ball turns, then there is a silly point. Maybe he played half-cocked which is why he got out.

"We plan the field setting after watching him on TV. If you keep fielders in his weak areas at the start, then his shots get curtailed. He had just come to the crease, with tea also not far away. So our plan was to attack. We didn't want to let him step out, which he does a lot. We thought the more we make him play from the crease, the better it will be for us."

Vijay Dahiya, the former India wicketkeeper who was commentating on TV at the time, said the wicket was a tribute to Vidarbha's smart planning. "The field placement according to me is always as per the batsman. Full marks to Vidarbha's management here," Dahiya told ESPNcricinfo. "There had been a partnership going on earlier, and there was not a short-leg fielder then. Pujara coming in, such a big name, and straightaway there was a short leg in. And that silly point fielder was absolutely adjacent there. That's how you take big wickets, with a game plan.

"If you look at this pitch, there is not much bounce, so it's not going to go straight. Even the catch that went to slip, it didn't carry at normal height, it was going down. When you don't have enough bounce, you try and pitch it inside. Full marks to their thinking, especially against someone who has had a fantastic Australia trip, and came from the semi-finals scoring a match-winning 131 not out. Credit goes to the bowler as well in bowling in the right area."

The wicket took Sarwate's season's tally to 47. In Vidarbha's semi-final win against Kerala, which was wrapped up inside two days, Sarwate didn't get to bowl a single ball, with Umesh and his fellow pacers cleaning up the opposition. Back at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur with its spin-friendly pitch, Sarwate may have just bowled the most significant 10 balls of the game.