Cheteshwar Pujara combined with Sheldon Jackson, who scored an unbeaten 100, as the duo forged 214 runs for the unconquered fourth wickets as Saurashtra chased down the 279-run target on the final day with five wickets in hand. @ PTI

The Ranji Trophy 2018-19 semi-final clash between Saurashtra and Karnataka was marred with controversy. At the centre of it all was Cheteshwar Pujara. Despite leading Saurashtra to the final with an unbeaten 131, Pujara was labelled a ‘cheater’ by the partisan fans at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru for having given two lifelines by the umpire during the match which Saurashtra went on to win by six wickets.

The first questionable episode rolled out in Saurashtra’s first dig when Pujara nicked one off Ronit More. However, umpire Sayied Khalid’s decision went in favour of the India batsman, who just returned after a Man of the Series performance in Australia. Pujara went on to score 45 in the first innings. (ALSO READ: ‘Can’t really have anyone better than Cheteshwar Pujara to influence Saurashtra’)

The second incident came at a defining stage of the match when Pujara was batting on 34. He edged it behind to the wicketkeeper, the umpire Khalid signalled not out, much to the dismay of the bowler, Vinay Kumar and the Karnataka players, who were pleading that the batsman did nick it behind. The umpire remained unconvinced even after television replays showed that Pujara did edge it to the ’keeper.

Pujara combined with Sheldon Jackson, who scored an unbeaten 100, as the duo forged 214 runs for the unconquered fourth wickets as Saurashtra chased down the 279-run target on the final day with five wickets in hand.

While Pujara, who registered his 49th first-class century, was slammed for the incident, Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak defended his veteran batsman for not walking back.

“I don’t think it makes any sense [to criticise Pujara]. In my career, I would have got 20 to 30 ridiculously bad decisions and never has anyone called me back because the opposition were so happy that Kotak was out. Pujara is a far better player than me. If somebody calls you back when you are not out, then you are allowed to walk against them,” Kotak was quoted as saying by MID-DAY on Tuesday.

“Honestly, you feel you should walk, but it is unfair to the team because when he is actually not out and still given out, nobody calls you back.”

Kotak accused Karnataka players for making false appeals during the match.

“Karnataka can cry, but when they got Prerak Mankad out [on 0 in the first innings], caught behind by appealing wrongly even as the ball was relatively far away from the bat, why didn’t they recall Prerak? They got Prerak wrongly out and were happy with it,” he questioned.

“The wicketkeeper knew, the bowler knew… so why didn’t they call him back? You want Pujara to be honest, but you don’t want to be honest. You cannot have it both ways.

“If they had sporting spirit, why would they falsely appeal? At least we didn’t make any false appeal. Karnataka were showing desperation because they may have felt hard done by [with Pujara’s decision].”

After the match, Pujara was booed and Kotak felt the reception was very unsporting.

“It is wrong on the crowd’s part. Has Vinay Kumar ever called a batsman back in his career for being given out wrongly? If he has not done so then he has no right to complain,” said Kotak.

“As long as the umpire is not doing it purposely. He’s human, he can make mistakes. You have to go with the decision and accept it. There were so many decisions which went against us as well… at least five to six. But we haven’t complained. Vinay was out leg before, but the umpire said it was bat and pad. Abhimanyu Mithun and Mayank Agarwal were also clearly out leg before but were given not out. The decisions were even for both teams,” he added.

He also said that Saurashtra have a better record in the Ranji Trophy than Karnataka. “So, no point finding excuses about losing due to bad decisions,” Kotak said.

Saurashtra will face defending champions Vidarbha in the final which gets underway in Nagpur on February 3.