Ranji Trophy final: Vidarbha leave Cheteshwar Pujara, Saurashtra in a spin
Saurashtra and India batting fulcrum Cheteshwar Pujara’s dismissal at the stroke of tea threw open the Ranji Trophy final as Vidarbha rebounded on the second day with a dominant all-round performance.
Domestic competitions cry out for stars, and none could have been bigger than Pujara in red-hot form. But left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate dismissed him for one run at the stroke of tea, getting Pujara to nick one by posting an attacking close cordon.
Saurashtra were 158 for five at stumps, trailing Vidarbha (312 all out) by 154 runs. With the wicket beginning to assist turn, survival against Vidarbha’s tight spin bowling will be hard hereon.
Battling the hosts on their march to a big lead was opener and wicketkeeper Snell Patel (87* -- 160 b, 14x4), who soaked in the pressure and kept the scoreboard ticking with effortless and instinctive stroke play, working the ball around and hitting boundaries whenever there was an opportunity.
His use of feet and known strength of sweeping never allowed the bowlers to settle down against him. Batting at his end looked completely different from the other where even Pujara struggled.
Patel survived a close call in the 70s. “The wicket is slow and it suits my style of play, which is off the backfoot,” he said.
Apart from him, it was Vidarbha’s day. Resuming on 200/7, they added 112 runs in the morning. Akshay Karnewar (73), known more for his ambidextrous bowling, added 78 runs for the eighth wicket with Akshay Wakhare (34) as the bowlers, especially spinners, kept bowling at least a couple of loose balls every over. By the time seamers Chetan Sakariya and Jaydev Unadkat knocked over the tail, Vidarbha had crossed 300.
That gave the home side the psychological edge, and importantly, ate into the batting-friendly time the wicket afforded on the second day. The surface was expected to support turn from the last session on Day 2, and with the Vidarbha spinners far superior to Saurashtra’s, the first session runs weighed heavy on the batsmen.
“The lower-order contribution gave us huge confidence,” said left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate, who picked three wickets.
Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal, sensing there was not much help for pacers, brought on Sarwate in the third over and the move paid off with opener Harvik Desai playing back to be trapped plumb in front.
Sarwate was removed after two overs (two runs, one wicket), brought back for another spell of two overs, before returning for his third spell in the 20th over. He soon got rid of Vishvaraj Jadeja -- he had dropped anchor much in Pujara style as Snell played his strokes -- with one that didn’t turn much and hit him low on the pad.
Jadeja’s wicket brought Pujara to the crease, and while there were just a handful of Vidarbha supporters, they gave their all to distract him like they tried with earlier batsmen. Sarwate with his stump-to-stump line made scoring hard for Pujara, who even tried to come out of the crease but without success.
The spinner then produced a ball that turned enough to catch the edge of Pujara’s bat and Wasim Jaffer at slip held it comfortably.
Off-spinner Wakhare then joined in with a couple of wickets and made the ball turn and bounce awkwardly.
“Not that happy. A wicket or two more would have been more satisfying,” said Sarwate, who is Vidarbha’s highest wickettaker with 47 scalps.