Dazzling Pujara finishes off Karnataka's chances
Saurashtra 469 and 463 for 3 (Pujara 261*, Jackson 70*, Jogiyani 70) lead Karnataka 396 (Pandey 177, Uthappa 60) by 536 runs
After the third day's play, both captains had talked about a deteriorating track at the Saurashtra University ground and how it was an open game. Karnataka's leader Stuart Binny had targetted limiting the home team to 150. Cheteshwar Pujara alone scored nearly twice that, and Saurashtra bludgeoned 195 in a breathtaking morning session that put the game beyond Karnataka.
It was Pujara's second consecutive second-innings double-century, and he once again displayed a wide repertoire of strokes that should quell doubts over his ability to flourish in limited-overs cricket. There were 40 fours in his 275-ball 261. With the national selector Rajinder Hans watching, Pujara helped his chances of getting his ODI debut in his hometown in two days' time.
Binny had been disappointed with the way his spinners bowled in the first innings. The second innings was worse. Much worse. All three spinners - KP Appanna, newcomer K Gowtham and part-timer Amit Verma - average above 50 this season, and on the fourth day in Rajkot, it was evident why. None of them could maintain a steady line and length to build pressure, routinely dropping it short or wide or on the pads. It didn't take long for the dressing-room advice to change from barathe barathe [wickets will come) to solpa tight-aage haaku [bowl a little more tightly].
Karnataka gave their fast bowlers only a handful of overs before lunch, relying instead on spin. It proved a costly move, as Sagar Jogiyani and Pujara ripped the slow bowlers apart, with 28 fours and two sixes in the session. So deflated were Karnataka that a few overs before lunch, they turned to the gentle offbreaks of KL Rahul and Binny, who bowled offspin instead of his usual medium-pace as the track was beneficial to the spinners.
Jogiyani was the aggressor in the first hour, regularly slog-sweeping the spinners towards midwicket or guiding them down to fine leg. Pujara get many of his early runs behind the wicket, using deft late cuts or lap-sweeps, one of which sent the ball behind the keeper to the sightscreen. The bigger strokes only came out to the bad balls, like the half-trackers on leg stump that Gowtham served up, which were duly dismissed for leg-side boundaries.
Jogiyani fell after reaching 70, but Pujara once again showed his appetite for large scores. On reaching his century, there was hardly any celebration, just a perfunctory wave of the bat. A Ranji hundred for Pujara is like Lionel Messi scoring one goal in a game. They are just warming up.
As the innings progressed the scoring rate only increased, and he looked to get to his double-century with a shot he hadn't played all innings: a reverse-sweep. He didn't connect properly, prompting some advice from the dressing room, and he got the milestone with a glance behind square leg off the next ball. Soon after, he played three successive reverse-sweeps against Appanna. There had been no sixes in his innings as well till he decided to bring up his 250 with a huge hit over midwicket. It took him only 34 deliveries to go from 200 to 250.
Long before that Karnataka's spirit had faded. There were some bad misfields and some lazy cricket. On one occasion, bowler HS Sharath didn't even realise the throw from the deep wasn't just coming to his end but at him, and noticed it only when his team-mates shouted for him to "watch out", as though he was a bystander at a nets session. Add to that knee injuries to three of their fielders, Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa and Kunal Kapoor.
The only phase in which the bowlers had a bit of a say was just after lunch when Karnataka used both their quicks, with Sharath bowling bouncer after bouncer at Pujara. The batsman was troubled a couple of times early on, nearly gloving a catch to the keeper but was soon back in command. In the next Sharath over, he pulled a short ball for four, then glanced another to fine leg for a boundary before making it a hat-trick with a thrilling upper-cut over the slips. Mithun could be heard advising Sharath to not bowl it short every ball.
Otherwise, it was all Saurashtra. "In my lifetime I have never seen any team score 462 runs in a day," a dejected Karnataka coach J Arunkumar said at stumps, highlighting the utter dominance of the home side.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo