Cheteshwar Pujara’s battling half-century (91, 146b, 11x4) went in vain as Andhra recorded a 150-run win over Saurashtra in their sixth-round Ranji Trophy match at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot on Friday.
While it has secured the knockout spot, Saurashtra’s first defeat has put its top spot in jeopardy. With 26 points in Elite Group B, it is still ahead in a three-way race as second-placed Maharashtra faces third-ranked Mumbai in the last round.
Resuming from 10 for one in its 343-run chase on the final day, Saurashtra faltered early as Pujara buckled up to rescue his team. After being castled by Andhra pacer Nitish Kumar for five in the first innings on Day 2, Pujara spent the next two mornings with specific batting sessions in the practice nets at the venue.
Nightwatchman Chetan Sakariya’s dismissal brought Pujara to the middle in the seventh over of the day. A concerned Saurashtra fan quickly voiced expectations of a “Gabba 2021” repeat as Pujara walked down from the dressing room.
Pujara lifted the scoring alongside Sheldon Jackson in a passage of 30 minutes that raised hopes for Saurashtra. He got in perfect positions to counter the length against his first-innings nemesis Nitish, who attempted a net of close-in on-side fielders again. Pujara’s trademark flick through mid-wicket and a rasping square cut off Nitish prompted Andhra captain Hanuma Vihari to fall back to spin. While Pujara batted out overs with a string of fours and effective running, Lalith Mohan and Shoaib Khan took out the middle-order within 23 overs on either side of Lunch.
Shortly after reaching a milestone 12,000th run in First-Class cricket in India in the second session, Pujara flailed a fuller delivery from Shoaib straight to the short mid-wicket fielder. Lalith then nailed the match as he castled Dharmendrasinh Jadeja for his sixth wicket and bundled the host for 192. The left-arm spinner ended with match figures of 11 for 129 and was adjudged the Player of the Match.
While Andhra hosts Assam next week, Saurashtra will travel south to meet Tamil Nadu in Chennai. Indian all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja’s anticipated comeback match will now be more than a stage for a fitness test for himself and Saurashtra.
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