Ranji Trophy final: Sarwate scalps Cheteshwar Pujara for duck, Vidarbha close in on victory
The calm, mentally strong and technically sound Cheteshwar Pujara was for the second time in the match reduced to a cat on a hot tin roof as he struggled to decode left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate again on a challenging pitch here on Wednesday.
After he made a rearguard 49 – top-score of the innings -- to help holders Vidarbha set a 206-run target, Sarwate returned to pick three early wickets and leave Saurashtra wobbling at 58/5 at stumps on the fourth and penultimate day of the Ranji Trophy final. Sarwate took 5/98 in the first innings.
The Vidarbha spinner got the openers, first-innings centurion Snell Patel and Harvik Desai, before trapping Pujara leg-before for a five-ball duck in the final session. Umesh Yadav rubbed salt into the Saurashtra wounds by getting rid of Arpit Vasavada, and just before stumps, off-spinner Akshay Wakhare beat the other experienced batsman Sheldon Jackson with one that turned and kept low.
After a sedate start for Saurashtra, Snell Patel was forced into playing one that turned and Wasim Jaffer pouched it in the slips. Desai then stepped out to work it to the leg-side but the outside edge was caught by the bowler. Pujara was under pressure as he walked in, the small crowd chirping away, having called Patel and Pujara ‘cheater’ a while earlier. It was ungainly but sometimes anything goes in sport, especially when it can unnerve the man Australia bowlers failed to shake through their summer.
With fielders baying for blood around him, Pujara hoped to wriggle out by trying to work the ball away. He stepped out a couple of times but couldn’t clear, once even getting an inside edge. “He is starting to use his feet,” a Vidarbha fan in the crowd said anxiously.
But it looked as if the first innings dismissal was on his mind, when he edged to slip. This time he was playing for the turn, but the fifth delivery crashed straight into the pads. From 19 without loss and in a position of strength, Saurashtra were 22/3 with their backs to the wall.
Sarwate, among the grittiest players in the Vidarbha line-up and with a fifer in the first innings, was turning it on again and making life hell for Saurashtra, who are eyeing their first Ranji title.
Earlier in the day, it was Sarwate’s effort with the bat that proved to be the difference between a low total and a competitive total.
After securing a five-run first innings lead, the Vidarbha batsmen seemed to feel a false sense of security. It was evident the way they’d celebrated last evening after dismissing their opponents. They began very slowly, and though scoring picked up pace last evening, they again went into their shell in the morning. The idea was to bat out.
It didn’t happen as tight bowling, spearheaded by the season’s highest wickettaker Dharmandra Jadeja, who kept taking wickets. Vidarbha were 73/5 and 105/6.
Sarwate batted for the most part of the first two sessions, adding 29 (off 86 balls) for the seventh wicket, 13 (off 44 balls) for the eighth, 31 (off 27 balls) for the ninth and 22 (off 68) for the last wicket, farming the strike while batting with last man Rajneesh Gurbani (3 not out).
“We were happy and thought the target was gettable but we lost a few more wickets than we should have,” said Dharmendra Jadeja. “Sheldon should have stayed till the end and not played that shot. All we need is a good partnership.”