Pujara ton takes Saurashtra into the lead
Saurashtra 254 for 5 (Pujara 116*, Jackson 47, Arup 3-68) lead Assam 234 (Verma 98, Unadkat 6-77) by 20 runs
Cheteshwar Pujara dipped into an imprint that has defined his standing as a Test batsman, and provided the critical nudge that advanced Saurashtra's position in the Ranji Trophy semi-final in Vadodara, even if only slightly. Pujara's unbeaten century, his 31st at the first-class level, that spanned over five hours and saw him rebuild, consolidate and drive the innings forward helped Saurashtra end Day 2 on 254 for 5, which amounted to a lead of 20.
Pujara played central roles in two partnerships, the second of which was an unbroken 93-run alliance with Chirag Jani that helped Saurashtra set themselves up for a bigger lead. Pujara was also the recipient of some luck as he was dropped on 37 by wicketkeeper KB Arun Karthik off Krishna Das, after he got a thick inside edge.
For Assam, the Das duo of Krishna and Arup produced long, tireless spells without any discernible drop in efficiency.
It was Arup, the quicker of the two, who left the batsmen frazzled early on. Avi Barot, the slightly thick-set opener, counterpunched with some robust drives on the rise but his partner, Sagar Jogiyani, was clearly in trouble against Arup's pace. The inevitable happened in the 13th over as a length delivery from Arup had Jogiyani moving gingerly, and his reticent poke was held by Gokul Sharma at first slip.
Krishna, meanwhile, was testing the batsmen by bowling outside off stump to a 7-2 field with a straight-ish mid on to boot. He wasn't averse to trying out different angles, which accounted for Barot, who was trapped lbw. This was followed by a relative lull in the proceedings as Pujara and Arpit Vasavada sought to establish order. At one stage, Krishna had bowled nearly 15 overs on the trot and conceded only 23 runs, but Pujara was willing to wait.
It was Sheldon Jackson, though, who forced the pace as he drove the seamers for boundaries on either side. With Assam's bowlers persisting with a shorter length, Pujara fancied the cut. But when they compensated for it by bowling straighter, Pujara brought his wristy flicks, propelled by a strong yet supple bottom hand, into play.
As the day neared its end, he hiked his scoring rate, moving from 87 to 98 in one over. This time he brought out the whole range; the back cut, the flick and the on drive with a rapid, forceful downswing. Within no time his hundred was being cheered on by a small crowd.
Assam, for their part, sought to extract the most out of their seam bowlers, their prime wicket-taking options, but in that ended up overworking them. It wasn't until the 51st over that left-arm spinner J Syed Mohammad was employed, and he struck with his fifth ball as his quirky, round-arm finish accounted for Jackson, who was evidently thrown off rhythm.
The batsman's attempted drive off a wide delivery lobbed up to point. Similarly offspinner Swarupam Purkayastha was introduced only with a few overs left in the day. Arup later admitted that they could have bowled a lot fuller, especially with the older ball.
Assam, however, had begun the morning with gusto as overnight batsman Amit Verma and Goswami galloped along to 41 runs in eight overs. At 234 for 7, they must have surely fancied at least 30 more runs, but it took Saurashtra and Jaydev Unadkat all of one over to snuff out Assam's first innings.
Goswami, who scored 22 off 34 balls, played one onto his stumps, and two balls later it was Krishna's turn to walk back to the dressing room. Verma was the out the very next delivery two short of his hundred to give Unadkat his sixth wicket, his second five-for in as many matches.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo