Vasavada holds nerve to haul Saurashtra into final
Gowtham's three wickets had reduced Saurashtra to 42 for 5 in a chase of 115, before Vasavada and Sakariya rescued them
Saurashtra 527 (Vasavada 202, Jackson 160, Kaverappa 5-83) and 117 for 6 (Vasavada 47*, Koushik 3-32, Gowtham 3-38) beat Karnataka 407 (Agarwal 249, Sharath 66, Sakariya 3-73, Kushang 3-109) and 234 (Jose 109, Agarwal 55, Sakariya 4-45, Jadeja 4-69) by four wickets
Saurashtra are fast establishing themselves as one of the most consistent domestic teams in Indian cricket. Next week in Kolkata, they will have an opportunity to add the Ranji crown to their trophy cabinet, alongside the Vijay Hazare Trophy they won in December.
A third Ranji final appearance in four seasons was confirmed on the final day in Bengaluru when Arpit Vasavada, their stand-in captain, stood tall despite Karnataka reducing them to 42 for 5 in a chase of 115.
In Karnataka's late pitch to upset the visitors, offspinner K Gowtham picked up three wickets - all lbws. On each occasion, the ball spun sharply and kept a tad low to beat the batter's defence. And just like that, a surface that had played very well all along sprung to life to add another layer of intrigue to the contest.
Just when it looked as if Karnataka had the upper hand, Saurashtra pulled off a masterstroke. Out came Chetan Sakariya, their designated No. 10, to try to disturb the bowlers' rhythm. With Skaraiya having a highest first-class score of 45, it's fair to assume he wasn't sent in to just survive.
Soon enough, it was clear he was asked to attack. Sakariya, who picked up four second-innings wickets to help bowl out Karnataka for 234, used the slog sweep to good effect as he walloped Gowtham against the turn for two massive sixes over deep midwicket. Shreyas Gopal, the legspinner, wasn't spared either as Sakariya sent him into the second tier. Suddenly, nerves gave way to a sense of freedom as Saurashtra started whittling down the runs.
Sakariya made 24 in his partnership of 63 with Vasavada. When he fell to V Koushik, Saurashtra were within ten runs of victory, which was sealed when Prerak Mankad hit a boundary in the 35th over of their innings, much to the delight of the entire team that sprinted onto the field.
At the other end, Vasavada, who stonewalled his way to 202 in the first innings, stood triumphant on an unbeaten 47, wiping beads of sweat and embracing his teammates in a warm hug. His side set up another date with Bengal, the team they had beaten in the 2019-20 final to seal their maiden title.
That Karnataka gave themselves a chance to make a spirited defence was courtesy of a fine century from rookie Nikin Jose. The 22-year-old, who played every match this season, raised his maiden first-class hundred, a 161-ball 109. There were also contributions from Mayank Agarwal (55) and then, lower down the order, from Gowtham (23) and Vijaykumar Vyshak (20).
The bowlers gave Karnataka a fighting chance, but once again - as has been for a while now - it was a case of being so near yet so far.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo