Saurashtra had a mountain to climb on the last day of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals. But it possessed a batting stalwart in its ranks — Cheteshwar Pujara — to guide it through.
And Chintu , as his team-mates call him, struck an unbeaten 67 to help the team pull off the highest chase in the history of the Ranji Trophy, against Uttar Pradesh (UP). “Having Chintu in your batting line-up is always a good thing. You kind of get a feeling that you already have 200 runs in your pocket,” Sitanshu Kotak, the Saurashtra coach, tells Sportstar .
REPORT | Saurashtra enters Ranji Trophy semis after record-breaking chase
Kotak, who has played enough domestic cricket with Pujara, knows what Pujara is capable of. “When Pujara was playing for India, even Australia was worried. How [can] UP not be worried?” he joked.
It wasn’t easy to chase down 372 on the final day. Kotak admits that while batting, Pujara made sure Harvik Desai, who slammed a century, kept his cool. “He made it a point to advise the team-mates and cool their nerves. That’s what senior players like him can do,” Kotak says.
After conceding a lead in the first innings, bouncing back was tough. But Kotak says, the players had self-belief. “After the first innings, we discussed that despite having such a strong batting line-up, if we can concede a lead of 177 in two days, why can’t we bounce back in the next three days? That motivated the boys,” Kotak says. “We knew we could chase down 400-plus runs. But had it been 500, it would have been a bit tough as the time would have been less,” he adds.
Despite gaining an upper hand early on, UP lost the plot. Did the wicket dry up or did the bowlers wilt under pressure?
“When you have a good start and then you have someone like Pujara who can himself score a double-century, it does add pressure on the opponent. Our plan was that the opener should score around 150 and then the rest will be taken care of,” he says. That strategy worked for the team.
Call of duty
After a successful tour in Australia, Pujara agreed to feature in Saurashtra’s knockout clashes because as a senior member that was his “duty.”
Read | Manish Pandey, Karun Nair steer Karnataka into semis
“Whenever he is not playing for the country, Chintu makes it a point to make himself available for us. That’s a big thing for us,” Kotak says. So, even after he was dismissed on 11 in the first innings, Kotak wasn’t bothered. He knew his good friend will come back stronger in the second innings. And he is happy to have been proven right.
In the semifinal, the side takes on Karnataka at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium — a clash of heavyweights. But Kotak wants to treat it like just another game. “Every team is good and Karnataka is one of the better sides, but if we can play to our potential, we stand a very good chance,” the coach says.
And most importantly for him, Chintu will also be available for the key match and that puts the team in a better place. After the quarterfinal, Pujara left for Mumbai for some family function and will directly join the team in Bengaluru — fresh and ready to take guard.
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