Saurashtra v MP, Ranji Trophy, 9th round, 3rd day December 31, 2012

Pujara's dominating double stuns MP


Madhya Pradesh 135 and 89 for 2 (Saxena 46*) need another 322 runs to beat Saurashtra 242 and 303 for 4 dec (Pujara 203*, Vasavada 55, Pandey 3-51)

For the rest, there was the slowness of the Khandheri pitch, its low and at times unpredictable bounce, and the zip in the new ball to tackle. For double-centurion Cheteshwar Pujara, all of that didn't matter. Over five hours of top-class batting, Pujara went from free-flowing to aggressive to downright dismissive, remaining solid all the time. He was like a marathoner accelerating gradually through his first 30km or so and then retaining enough stamina and focus to sprint through the final fourth of the distance as if it were a 100m dash. His first fifty came in in 88 balls, the second in 63, the third in 51, and the final one in just 17.

Saurashtra had been 23 for 3 in the morning. Pujara's dominance crushed whatever pressure that scoreline suggested, reducing it to an entry on the card. By lunch, Saurashtra were 128 for 3. By tea, they had bolted to 303 for 4 and declared to set Madhya Pradesh a target of 411. The stunned visitors gifted two wickets to Saurashtra, leaving them with eight more to take on the final day to reach the quarter-finals.

MP would have had thoughts of a chase in the region of 250 after Ishwar Pandey's probing opening spell of 6-4-2-2. Pandey jagged one across Shitanshu Kotak to trap him leg-before, though the ball had pitched marginally outside leg stump. There was nothing marginal about the Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah's dismissal, Pandey getting him to drive and sneaking a length delivery through the gate to uproot the middle stump.

With Pujara's presence, though, not for one moment did it appear as if Saurashtra were feeling the pressure, or that the MP attack, especially the spinners, was capable of making them feel it. His forward stride was big and assured, his defence was tight, and he made sure he put away even slightly loose deliveries. MP knew they were up against a special innings, and slowly, their fields went from aggressive to defensive. Aarpit Vasavada played an important knock as well, defending resolutely to make his second fifty of the match, but the day was all Pujara's.

Jalaj Saxena was getting some slow turn and bounce but Pujara dealt with it superbly, delaying a steer to beat deep point, and guiding one past slip even as he was surprised by the extra lift. He reached his hundred with successive fours off Saxena, one by stepping out and driving through extra cover and then, pulling hard to the deep-square boundary. Next ball, he was back to calm forward defence.

After motoring to his 150, Pujara went berserk. He reverse-swept Rameez Khan from leg stump to the deep-point boundary. A fielder was put there, so Pujara reverse-paddled the next ball to the third man rope. Devendra Bundela turned to his best bowler, Pandey, who was shredded for five successive fours. First ball, Pujara charged out to Pandey and lofted him over mid-on. The second was tickled to the fine-leg rope. He charged out against third ball, took it on the full and slammed it through extra cover. The fourth was an exquisite flick over midwicket, and the fifth a powerful pull that split the gap between deep square leg and fine leg.

Sixteen minutes after getting to 150, Pujara had his fifth first-class double hundred in the final over before tea. Saurashtra declared, giving MP four sessions to make 411. Naman Ojha and Saxena started positively before Ojha threw it away. Like in the first innings, he lofted the debutant left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja for two fours in his opening over. With MP needing at least a draw (and a Gujarat loss to Mumbai) to make the knockouts, Ojha tried to hit a third four in the over, and holed out to mid-on. There was to be one final sequence in MP's nightmare of a day.

Satyam Choudhary worked Jadeja to square leg, and Saxena raced halfway up the pitch. He then stopped, only to take another step or two, before finally withdrawing. By that time, Choudhary had been done in. Saxena and Rameez survived till stumps, but Pujara has already put Saurashtra far, far ahead going into the final day.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on January 3, 2013, 16:03 GMT

    A team that keeps losing because it's batsmen couldn't put up a fighting or safe enough score, keeps ignoring a quality batsmen who could bring stability to the batting order. Where's the logic in these kinds of selection policies? No hope for Indian cricket as long as they keep preferring poster boys with money as the motive rather than considering it as a bye-product.

  • Al on January 1, 2013, 18:37 GMT

    Pujara is a perfect fit at #3 or 4 in India's ODI team. He could play the role that Younis Khan does so well for Pakistan. He could provide stability in the middle, while keeping the scoreboard ticking with singles and doubles. Unlike T20, which needs big hitting, ODI is a game about rotating the strike and taking singles and doubles

  • Al on January 1, 2013, 18:01 GMT

    Two players form this match - Pujara and Ishwar Pandey should be automatic choices for India's ODI team. We can't afford to let promising fast bowlers go to waste on India's flat pitches. If BCCI cares for Indian cricket, it should fast track Ishwar Pandey and Imtiaz Ahmed. Imtiaz is a well built fast bowler from UP who can swing both ways at good speed. He took 9 wickets in UP's first match against Delhi, and 10 wickets in UP's recent match against Odisha. In the UP vs Delhi match, Ishant took only 3 or 4 wickets. How come the non-performing Ishant is still playing for India while better bowlers like Imtiaz and Ishwar are left to fend for themselves?

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2013, 10:41 GMT

    ishwar pandey looks like a exciting bowling prospect..,He bowls with constitent line length.. and with good pace.. he should be fast tracked.. and must be picked in for foreign india a tours.. by this his raw bowling skills can be accessed.. and he could develop into potential contender for future indian bowling attack..

  • Tony on January 1, 2013, 9:44 GMT

    @vinoth kumar- How is yuvraj the best No. 6 ODI batsman in the world? He averages 35 with a strike rate of 80. There are 5-6 better No.6 than him in world cricket. He is an all time great T20 though.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2013, 8:42 GMT

    Debutant DA Jadeja must be praised for showcasing class bowling, grabbing 9 wickets in first match itself. helping his team winning d must win game.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    Pujara Is grooming up Well !!!! Well he should adapt for Foreign Condition too !!!

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    Ajinkya Rahane & Cheteswar Pujara can easily replace Sehwag & Gambhir as India's openers! Some may say they are NOT regular openers! So was the case with Sachin-Sehwag combo, who exploded on the ODI scene and continued their dominance for so many years! . Now it is their turn to pass the baton to a new young, talented and hungry pair!

  • Tony on January 1, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    @Ashish Sali- Men like pujara are so talented, that forget about finding the right spot, the whole batting line up of Indian Test and One day team will revolve around his position for the next 6-7 years, if selected.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2013, 4:13 GMT

    Pujara would score bucket full of runs if selected for ODIs, but he bats #3. Already we have Kohli who is terrific and Rahane waiting. Pujara is not a big hitter like Raina or Dhoni to accomodate at #6 or 7 either.