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Pujara's 94 went in vain in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final
Pujara's 94 went in vain in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final © BCCI
Saurashtra captain Cheteshwar Pujara felt the failure of his young middle-order to absorb the pressure in the high stakes game led to their heart-breaking 41-run defeat in the Vijay Hazare final against Karnataka on Tuesday (February 27).
Chasing 254 for the title win against two-time champions Karnataka, Saurashtra were comfortably placed at 77 for 2 when a mini-collapse saw them slip to 134 for 7 in the 37th over. With little support from the tail-enders, the best the captain's valiant 94 could do was narrow down the margin of the inevitable loss.
"I thought we had a fair chance with the way we started here today, but the middle overs was the phase where we didn't bat well," Pujara said after finishing runners-up. "We lost too many wickets in two-three overs' time. That was the reason, I think, [where] we lost this game. Otherwise, 253 was really gettable on this wicket," he said.
Krishnappa Gowtham's double-wicket maiden turned the match on its head as Saurashtra lost two key men whose contributions lower down the order have been at the forefront of the team's victories in the lead up to the final. Both Aarpit Vasavada and Prerak Mankad, who finished with 273 and 202 runs in the tournament, fell to the Karnataka off-spinner for two-ball ducks thereby accelerating the team's downward slide. In the over prior to that, Ravindra Jadeja had gifted his wicket away trying an encore of the slog-sweep that earned him the only six during his brief stay in the middle.
Pujara believed even at 135 for 7, when Saurashtra needed 119 off 82 remaining deliveries, the match was theirs to lose. For starters, they had their captain well set on fifty; the outfield was quick and the boundaries at Kotla aren't too big to scale. He even found an able ally in Kamlesh Makvana, with whom Pujara added 65 runs at a run-rate of 8.5 to briefly rekindle his team's hopes. This, however, came after the captain had struggled to keep up with the required run-rate at the start of his innings. He more than made up for it by pressing on the accelerator almost as soon as he got to his fifty, but the counter punch came a tad late in the day. In his defence Pujara said had could not have switched gears earlier for Saurashtra needed to stabilise in order to burst in the death overs.
"We lost too many wickets early on. If we had wickets in hand obviously I would have started accelerating after 25 or 30 overs but if we are six, seven down I can't take that risk. In the middle overs was the time when the ball was turning a bit and that was the time when I told the other batsmen that we need to be little careful. Once you are set on this wicket then you can play your shots.
"[Towards the end] I was batting really well and I knew in the last ten overs if you need 100 runs it was quite gettable considering the small boundary and quick outfield. I was telling Kamlesh Makvana that we must carry on and I'll just take the bowlers on but unfortunately, I got run out. But otherwise we came very close, and if I was batting there then things could have been different. We wouldn't have lost by 41 runs," Pujara noted.
Pujara also stated that even though fielding didn't let them down in the clash, it was one area where the Saurashtra needs improvement going forward. Saurashtra offered a few freebies in overthrows. Mayank Agarwal and R Samarth, in particular, capitalised on fielding lapses by Saurashtra's fielders to sneak in extra runs all through, thereby putting the pressure back on the bowling unit in their match-defining 136-run partnership.
"To be honest, we didn't field as well as we could have liked. We definitely could have fielded better, but 253 on this wicket is gettable. So, I won't say that fielding is the thing that let us down. But yes, at the same time, I will agree that we need to improve as a fielding unit," he concluded.

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