Pujara, Shah drive strong Saurashtra reply
Saurashtra 326 for 3 (Pujara 152*, Shah 133*) trail Tamil Nadu 565 for 8 dec by 239 runs
The chances of an outright win for either side looked dire at the end of the third day in Chennai, as centuries by captain Jaydev Shah and Cheteshwar Pujara put Saurashtra in a good position to match Tamil Nadu's 565 for 8. Tamil Nadu's bowling threatened only when the conditions were conducive for the seamers in the morning. Once the clouds gave way to clear skies, as was the case for most of the day, Saurashtra took control over the hosts' limited spin attack, wearing them down with an attacking approach. Even the seamers were rendered ineffective with the older ball.
It was a flawless knock from Pujara, who came in late on the second day after the fall of an early wicket. He lost his overnight partner early on the third day, when Bhushan Chauhan nicked to the wicketkeeper in the second over. L Balaji got encouraging bounce and, under overcast skies, the seamers had the batsmen playing and missing on a few occasions. As if taking a cue from Abhinav Mukund and M Vijay on the opening day, Pujara shed flamboyance for patience. His watertight defense helped see off the tricky period against the moving ball, which he is likely to see more of at No. 3 in South Africa.
Sheldon Jackson supported Pujara in a stand of 54 for the third wicket before he was caught behind off the medium pace of R Prasanna. The bowling change brought an immediate wicket, but the hosts weren't so lucky with their frequent bowling changes thereafter.
After surviving a testing spell from Balaji, Pujara showed his class against the other medium pacers with a solid backfoot punch past cover off J Kaushik. He went a step further with three boundaries in one over by Aswin Crist - a crisp straight drive followed by a cut past gully and a cover drive. His foot movements were precise and he gradually began to leave a lot more balls outside off.
The standout feature was his wrist work. One of the best shots of the day was a flick off Balaji which he picked from the off stump and placed it wide of square leg. His fifty was appreciated by the sparse crowd and having achieved his first milestone, he ensured he carried on. He had a close call when he miscued legspinner B Indrajith, the ball landing behind the mid-on fielder as he ran back. Despite those anxious moments, Pujara wasn't deterred from using his feet to the spinners as he fetched boundaries along the ground.
Balaji constantly shuffled his bowlers in the second session, changing ends for some, but to no avail. The hosts began the session poorly when Vijay dropped a regulation catch at second slip off Balaji, giving Shah a life on 8. Shah made them play with an attacking century that included six sixes off the spinners. Tamil Nadu gambled by dropping a spinner for an extra seamer on a grassy pitch, and there was little turn for Aushik Srinivas and the part-timers, Indrajith and B Aparajith.
Pujara continued to find the boundaries with his wristy elegance, bringing up his century with one of them. The seamers too were flicked away, wide of mid-on and midwicket as he approached 150. A ferocious cover drive by Pujara brought up Saurashtra's 300. Pujara and Shah had ended the day with an unbeaten stand of 260, primed to erase the remaining deficit of 239 and take three points via an innings lead, with a draw the only likely outcome.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo