Rising batsman Cheteshwar Pujara cracked a superb unbeaten century to steer Saurashtra into the Ranji Trophy semi-finals with a five-wicket victory over Karnataka on the fourth and final day of the quarter-final tie in Mumbai on Monday.
Chasing a stiff target of 325 set by their rivals, Saurashtra romped home by making 327 for five in the last session of play at the Brabourne Stadium.
Pujara remained unconquered on 112 in 224 balls with 15 hits to the fence after forging crucial and successive partnerships with three left handers -- veteran Sitanshu Kotak, who made 87, all rounder Ravindra Jadeja (55) and captain Jaydev Shah (55 not out) -- to guide his side home.
The 20-year-old right-handed batsman, who has been in roaring form in the domestic championship this season with a tally of over 750 runs before this tie, put on a vital stand of 163 runs for the fourth wicket with Kotak, who struck 12 fours in his 147-ball stay.
Their stand rescued Saurashtra, who trailed Karnataka by 116 runs in the first innings, from a precarious position of 13 for three in the morning and helped them turn the match around in fine style.
After Kotak's fall at 176, Pujara had another left hander for company in Jadeja, who had already made his mark by taking nine wickets in the match, and the duo stitched together a stand of 77 runs in only 78 balls to put Saurashtra on the path to victory.
Pujara and the belligerent Shah, who struck nine fours and a six in his 43-ball unbeaten cameo, then piloted their side home with an unfinished stand of 74 runs.
Saurashtra will meet West Zone rivals Mumbai in the semi-final in Chennai from January 4-7.
Karnataka, sitting pretty last evening with Saurashtra struggling at 10 for two, struck another blow in the second over this morning to leave their rivals in deep trouble at 13 for three.
Medium pacer Vinay Kumar, who had taken both Saurashtra second innings wickets last evening, struck early by inducing opener Bhushan Chauhan (6) to edge to the slip cordon.
This was the only success for Karnataka in the first session.
The second session saw both Pujara (on 57 in a total of 148 for three) and Kotak (on 78 in a score of 154 for three) being let off in successive overs.
Pujara was dropped by Raghu who dived to his right at slip and failed to hold on to the glide off Balchandra Akhil.
In the next over, Kotak stepped out to Raghu, brought on to bowl off-spin in the 49th over by his captain Robin Uthappa despite taking two for 8 in the first innings, and the sharp chance was not taken by K B Pawan at silly point.
These were costly misses as Saurashtra needed to go a fair bit to achieve the victory target at that stage.
Kotak was dismissed when he stepped out and gave a return catch to Raghu but any chance of a comeback by Karnataka was thwarted by Pujara and Jadeja.
Though Jadeja was dismissed by Raghu after tea, Saurashtra were by then well on way to the finish line at 253 for five.
Pujara duly completed his eleventh first class hundred, and fifth in the season in eight matches, in the company of his captain Shah who adopted aggression from the first ball he faced to help his team canter home.