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Pujara 'wants it more than any one of us' - Unadkat

Saurashtra are 'really fortunate' to have Pujara in the team, said Unadkat Ekana Cricket Media/ Randhir Dev

When Prerak Mankad drove Ronit More through mid-off and sealed Saurashtra's place in the Ranji Trophy final, the Saurashtra dressing room broke into a victory chant.

"Kagiso!" yelled a hoarse voice. "Rabada!" the others chorused. This happened some five times.

It was an odd moment to celebrate the South Africa fast bowler.

"No logic of course, it doesn't make sense at all," said Jaydev Unadkat, Saurashtra's captain, when asked about it. "It's something we picked up from the Bombay [Mumbai] crowd when we played Bombay. Some of them were shouting that way, just to boost their players maybe.

"The fun-loving guys we have in our team, they picked it up for us and made a routine that whenever we won after that game, they've shouted like that. It's just one of those fun moments we have after winning a game."

As the chant echoed around the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, a man who had faced 139 balls from Rabada in Test cricket, without being dismissed, shook hands with the defeated Karnataka players.

ALSO READ: Synchronised clapping - the 'punch' that keeps Saurashtra going

In the quarter-final, he had made an unbeaten 67 in a fourth-innings chase of 372. Now he had followed it up with an unbeaten 131 in a fourth-innings chase of 279. Saurashtra couldn't have hoped for a bigger contribution from Cheteshwar Pujara when he joined them for the Ranji Trophy knockouts, having just returned home from a triumphant tour of Australia.

"Doesn't really matter what game, what level he's playing, he just wants to be out there and win it for the team" JAYDEV UNADKAT ON CHETESHWAR PUJARA

According to Unadkat, however, Pujara's contributions have extended far beyond just the runs he's scored.

"Can't really have anyone better than him to have that influence," Unadkat said. "The way he approached this game, or even the last game, he wants it more than any one of us.

"That's one thing I really love about him. Doesn't really matter what game, what level he's playing, he just wants to be out there and win it for the team. It's really showing at the moment how determined he is to win it for Saurashtra. Helping me in the field, helping other batsmen on how to approach the game, not just in the middle but out of the game as well.

"The guys have been really fortunate to have him in the side. He has been guiding the batsmen in the UP [Uttar Pradesh] game as well, that was one game where we got the confidence and it reflected in this game.

"Even though we were 23 for 3, no one actually was out of belief that we can win this game, it was down to him. The character that he has, the image that he has. We're lucky to have him in the team for sure."

Having come together after three wickets had fallen quickly, Pujara and Sheldon Jackson put on 214 for the fourth wicket to take the game away from Karnataka. They may or may not have had some help from an umpiring error when Pujara pushed at a Vinay Kumar outswinger on 34. There was a sound as ball passed bat - though on replays, without the aid of HotSpot or UltraEdge, it was difficult to say conclusively that the sound was the result of an edge - and umpire Saiyed Khaled turned down Karnataka's appeal.

A section of the 1000-plus-strong crowd at the Chinnaswamy began booing Pujara, and greeted him with chants of "cheater, cheater" when he walked off the field at the session breaks and at stumps on day four.

Unadkat felt there had been a few debatable decisions through the match, going against both teams, but he sympathised with the umpires. He also felt Karnataka had let the contentious decisions affect them while Saurashtra hadn't.

"I think anyone can have a tough game. The ball was moving a lot, deviating from the wicket," he said. "I'd just say that [the umpiring] has been neutral for sureā€¦ [Karnataka] thought it was out, we thought it was not out. There were a couple of other decisions as well, which went against us, and we didn't really it take in our mind and play the game, which I think they did.

"I'm really happy, don't want to take any credit away from how we played this game, how we fought after being 23 for 3, and playing the way Cheteshwar and Sheldon played.

"Even the second innings, when we bowled, it was one of those innings which I felt was really absorbing. We were all drained out after that third day of play. To be playing that kind of cricket against a side as good as Karnataka is what really matters to me rather than anything else in this game, and I wouldn't want to focus on anything else."

The chase of 372 against Uttar Pradesh in the quarter-final, Unadkat said, had filled Saurashtra with immense self-belief.

"We cannot have better confidence than what we have at the moment," he said. "Like you say, to actually do it twice (chase down testing targets) is down to how determined the guys are to win the title this year.

"We spoke about it during the league phase and during the first knockout game as well. I kept saying after the last game as well, against UP. When they were 100 for 1 in the second innings and leading by 340-350 runs, that was the time when we still spoke. I spoke and Cheteshwar spoke, and we said, 'It's now or never'. It doesn't really matter if we win or lose from here. We've worked hard throughout the season and we're going to put in everything we have.

"All 15 guys are really keen to win it for the team. The guys sitting outside as well. If you see how committed they were and how much zeal they were showing to win the game, it's great. They were supporting every run we were scoring today, when we needed 55 runs.

"You cannot ask for anything more from a team that has 15-16 players and the support staff. I think we are in a zone. It is helping us a lot. We are in a zone where we feel that energy from within. We don't need anyone to really motivate us when we go out. When I speak or when Cheteshwar speaks, we just come into the zone when we are on the ground. That has actually helped us in the last couple of games because you can't really do these things without having a belief that is actually so much stronger than having those doubts or pressure of winning the game. It's just about that belief and determination the guys have from within."

When Saurashtra meet Vidarbha on February 3 in Nagpur, they will be playing their third final in seven seasons. Unadkat was part of the innings defeats to Mumbai in both the 2012-13 and 2015-16 finals. He said the team now was different, mentally, without the fear of failure.

"Things have changed a lot from the time we played the last final," Unadkat said. "We've got a very young side, compared to what we had then. We have three, four, or five guys who weren't playing that game but are playing now and have done really well for the team. The atmosphere is pretty different. We were a bit desperate to win the title in those finals.

"We are really eager to win it this time but we are not afraid of losing it. That is one change I can see between that final and how we're approaching the game this year. The fact that we've won games like these. I think the confidence will be sky high. We've beaten Vidarbha this season on first-innings lead. So that's going to play on their mind and we'd like to capitalise on that as much as we can.

"Having said that, it's the final and both teams will come out all guns blazing. Let's hope for a great game. Both teams are looking good on paper."