Ranji Trophy: All eyes on Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal in clash of heavyweights

Saurashtra will rely on the experienced Cheteshwar Pujara while Karnataka welcomes Mayank Agarwal back in its champion domestic side.

Reunion: Cheteshwar Pujara greets his India team-mate Mayank Agarwal at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

If Australian commentator Kerry O’Keeffe can jest about Mayank Agarwal’s triple ton in the Ranji Trophy in the middle of an international Test match, trust the world to be wary of the talent being harnessed in the Indian domestic cricket setup.

Following the historic Test series triumph Down Under, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank returned to their respective States — Saurashtra and Karnataka — for the Ranji Trophy knockouts. The second semifinal of the 2018-19 season starting on Thursday at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium belongs to them.

As his knocks in Australia had been, Pujara seems to be tireless.

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Despite suffering long flights, dealing with changing conditions, being away from home for long periods, and facing 1,258 balls and a few more in the Ranji quarterfinal, he is as smooth as silk. On Wednesday morning, as the visiting side practised catching at the main ground amid encouraging shouts from coach Sitanshu Kotak, the TV cameras kept rotating with Pujara. The India No. 3 finished his fielding drills and moved to the B ground for batting. He looked supremely fit.

Ticking all boxes

Mayank had a normal entry to the ground that made him a professional cricketer. But this time, he had admirers from outside the gate coming in for an autograph. The right-hander ticked all boxes on the eve of the game. Padding up to pacers and spinners, fielding and then, the pool session.

 

“It doesn’t matter whether it is Karnataka or any other team as it is the semifinal of the Ranji Trophy. The current form matters. The teams that has done well throughout the season has reached here. It is going to be a good surface to play Test cricket on. They have kept some grass so that it lasts five days. The nature of this wicket is such that it will provide something or the other for fast bowlers and later, for spinners.”

— Jaydev Unadkat, Saurashtra captain

 

Though playing at home, Karnataka had lost to Saurashtra in the group stages in its away clash. The Jaydev Unadkat-led side has a psychological edge going into the crucial fixture.

Karnataka will hope to avenge its defeat against Saurashtra in the group stages. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

 

It will, however, be cautious of slow left-arm orthodox bowler J. Suchith, who took nine wickets in two innings in Rajkot.

Samarth likely to sit out

There is still no clarity as to who in the Karnataka squad will make way for Mayank. Looking at recent performances, R. Samarth is likely to sit out. D. Nischal, who hit two hundreds in the season, could be Mayank’s opening partner.

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Karnataka pacer Ronit More had a long session at the nets. He bowled a tight line and kept skipper Manish Pandey on his toes. The 26-year-old pacer — who took three fifers this season — is a brutal force in the Karnataka ranks.

 

“There are a lot of takeaways from our last Rajkot clash. As batsmen, we need to apply, and as bowlers, we need to stay disciplined. Pujara is a big wicket in this game. Any of us getting the wicket will feel great about it. We have our plans for him. We played the semifinals last year and we won this tournament twice in the last five years. Having Mayank back is going to be great but the guys who played in the league stages, until the last match, has helped the team get to this position. We take nothing away from them.”

— Shreyas Gopal, Karnataka vice-captain

 

Other than Pujara, Saurashtra will bank on the find of the season — Harvik Desai — and senior pro Sheldon Jackson. Slow left-arm orthodox bowler Dharmendrasinh Jadeja will be paceman Unadkat’s trump card. Jadeja has claimed 45 wickets in the 2018-19 season so far.

There are no injuries on either side.

How important is the contest? A few minutes before the players dispersed, there was a sudden outcry from the left corner. The groundsmen had spotted a snake. The reptile must have cleared the ground of all rats and insects.

Squads

Saurashtra (From): Harvik Desai, Snell Patel(w), Vishvaraj Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sheldon Jackson, Aarpit Vasavada, Prerak Mankad, Kamlesh Makvana, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Jaydev Unadkat(c), Chetan Sakariya, Chirag Jani, Samarth Vyas, Jay Chauhan, Kishan Parmar.

Karnataka (From): Ravikumar Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, Dega Nischal, Krishnamurthy Siddharth, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey(c), Shreyas Gopal, Sharath BR(w), Krishnappa Gowtham, Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ronit More, Prasidh Krishna, Jagadeesha Suchith, Srinivas Sharath.

Karnataka’s road to semifinal
  • In Nagpur: Drew with Vidarbha.
  • In Belagavi: Drew with Mumbai.
  • In Mysore: Beat Maharashtra by seven wickets.
  • In Rajkot: Lost to Saurashtra by 87 runs.
  • In Surat: Drew with Gujarat.
  • In Shimoga: Beat Railways by 176 runs.
  • In Alur: Beat Chhattisgarh by 198 runs.
  • In Vadodara: Lost to Baroda by two wickets.
  • In Bengaluru: Beat Rajasthan by six wickets.

Saurashtra’s road to semifinal
  • In Rajkot: Drew with Chhattisgarh.
  • In Rajkot: Beat Railways by three wickets.
  • In Nadiad: Drew with Gujarat.
  • In Rajkot: Drew with Baroda.
  • In Rajkot: Beat Karnataka by 87 runs.
  • In Nasik: Beat Maharashtra by five wickets.
  • In Mumbai: Drew with Mumbai.
  • In Rajkot: Drew with Vidarbha.
  • In Lucknow: Beat Uttar Pradesh by six wickets.