Ranji Trophy Semifinal: Pujara calms Jackson’s exuberance as Saurashtra book final berth

With constant mentoring from Pujara, Jackson walked the path of abstinence: he shelved away his attacking shots, stubbed out the urge to do anything extravagant, and played percentage cricket.

Here is a small story from earlier this season that tells us about the importance of Sheldon Jackson’s immensely responsible hundred and the influence of Cheteshwar Pujara in restraining him during the chase of 279 that put Saurashtra into the Ranji Trophy finals for the second time in four years.

In a game against Mumbai at Wankhede Stadium, after reviving Saurashtra from a top-order collapse, the 32-year old Jackson was restless near the end of the second day’s play. A batsman who likes to play his shots, especially the pulls and aerial strokes, he was falling into Mumbai’s bouncer trap. Despite catchers on the boundary, he was going for his shots, even in the final over of the day. He failed to connect with a couple before holing out off the penultimate ball of the day. He missed out on a hundred and pushed the team back into trouble with that shot. Captain Jaydev Unadkat was so angry that a few expletives escaped his mouth at the team meeting. Sitanshu Kotak, the coach, had to pacify the skipper.

Fast forward to the Ranji semifinal, Sunday in Bangalore. Saurashtra had slipped to 23 for 3 when Jackson joined Pujara. Sensing he can be vulnerable to banter, Karnataka started to chatter away. Something that had worked for Mumbai at the Wankhede.

“It did (inspire) for the initial stages you know. The more they were sledging, the firmer we were getting in our head that we wanted to do it.”

With constant mentoring from Pujara, Jackson walked the path of abstinence: he shelved away his attacking shots, stubbed out the urge to do anything extravagant, and played percentage cricket. Every time there was a hint of looseness in his technique — just the odd pushing of the bat outside the off-stump — almost immediately, Pujara would come walking down the track. When the Karnataka players started to chirp away at Jackson, Pujara would take a couple of steps down the track, start tapping the bat and watch what’s happening at the other end. If it got too much, he would get to the other end. The method worked and the pair marched on.

Saurashtra needed just 55 runs on Monday and Jackson needed 10 for his hundred. He started off cautiously before pulling a ball to the boundary to bring up his ton – he took a few gentle steps, turned to face his dressing room, and leaped to pump his fist. Pujara let him have his moment before congratulating him. Vinay Kumar would take Jackson out in the next over with one that kept low and Ronit More took out Arpit Vasavada with a short one at his body that he fended off to short-leg.

But there would be no more breakthroughs as the Pujara wall couldn’t be breached. Not that Vinay didn’t try. There was a peach of a delivery that nipped back in to thread the almost non-existent bat-pad gap, but unluckily for Vinay, the ball whizzed over the middle stump. The next ball curved away but again couldn’t find the edge.

It’s an aspect of Pujara’s defensive technique that has really helped him. He rarely ever chases the ball; even if he is beaten, it always seems he has played inside the line. The secret is that he usually shapes to defend as if he is playing an inswinger. So invariably, if the ball curves away, he would be inside the line. Hence, unlike others, he hardly ever pushes out at the ball. The bowlers find it very difficult to clip his edge, just like Vinay found out in this game.

Pujara carried on doing his thing and eventually, Karnataka had to concede defeat. There has been a lot of brouhaha over umpiring decisions (one in each innings when the umpire missed the fact that Pujara had edged behind). There were little over 1,000 people in the stadium on Sunday who had booed, called him a “cheater”, and the wise men on Twitter too trolled him a bit for not walking. But even the Karnataka players, and coach Yere Goud, didn’t think he should have walked. Because they don’t either.

It’s a tribute to his enhanced reputation and aura after the epic Australia series that such talk goes around. Opposition teams and parochial fans feel flattened after one bad decision: they know he won’t give them another chance. He didn’t, and Saurashtra won.

Brief scores: Karnataka 275 & 239 lost to Saurashtra 236 & 282/5 (Pujara 131 not out, Sheldon Jackson 100; Vinay Kumar 3/75) by five wickets

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