Saurashtra v Karnataka, Ranji Trophy, 3rd day January 12, 2007

Saurashtra stumble after sound start

Day 3 Saurashtra 352 for 8 (Vaghela 101, Pujara 62) trail Karnataka 570 by 218 runs

Cheteshwar Pujara picked the right moment to come good as his 62 earned him a place among the World Cup probables © International Cricket Council

Amidst all the excitement that swamped the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium in Rajkot over the selection of the Indian team for the first two one-dayers against West Indies and the probables for the World Cup, the Ranji Trophy match between Karnataka and Saurashtra was reduced to a mere sideshow. But as shows went, it wasn't a bad one, as Saurashtra put up a good performance before losing their way a bit and ending the day on 352 for 8. The batting of three youngsters showed that Saurashtra cricket was healthy, even if this match is fast slipping out of their grasp.

Starting the day on 103 for no loss, with Sagar Jogiyani and Kaniaya Vaghela having batted with control, authority and optimism in the dying moments of the second day, something odd happened. The fluency and attractive strokeplay of the previous day was replaced by hesitancy and some decidedly dour batting. The flow of runs dried up, and automatically Karnataka's bowlers were able to exert their influence.

Only 33 was added to the overnight score before Jogiyani (80) was bowled by Raju Bhatkal, the debutant mediumpacer. Bhatkal had begun rather poorly yesterday, being hit for four through cover in his first ball in first-class cricket, but the nerves had clearly settled and he was far better. Pratik Joshi replaced Jogiyani, and made a start, getting to 15 before becoming Bhatkal's second victim, caught behind by Thilak Naidu.

Shitanshu Kotak has been the mainstay of Saurashtra's batting for so long now that there was still room for optimism when he walked out to bat with the score on 154 for 2. But Kotak is a grafter, someone who nudges and nurdles rather than give the ball a whack, and a slightly ambitious shot was his undoing. Having spent three quarters of an hour at the crease for only 9 he drove the offspin of Udit Patel uppishly and was caught at cover by Yere Goud.

Cheteshwar Pujara, the man of the hour, having just been picked in the World Cup probables, joined Vaghela, who had settled into a nice rhythm and had little trouble against the bowling even as wickets fell at the other end. Pujara too played some pleasing strokes, especially a wristy flick through midwicket and flowing drive through cover. The two added 108 for the fourth wicket, and it took a break of play to separate them. In the first ball after tea, Vaghela, who had batted with great grit for his 101, spooned a catch back to B Akhil.

From there on it was all downhill for Saurashtra. Pujara made 62, but was bowled by Vinay Kumar, and the wickets began to fall at regular intervals. When the day ended, the game as a contest was over. But then again, this game has hardly held centrestage, rather it has been the fulcrum around which many events have unfolded in Rajkot. And the locals certainly weren't especially worried about the result of the match, with their team already having secured a place in the Super League (Elite group) for the next year of the Ranji Trophy. In fact, the biggest whoop of delight came away from the field, when Niranjan Shah, who, as secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, read out the last name in the list of probables, and it was Pujara.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo