Uthappa's valiant century holds Karnataka together

Cricket Ranji Trophy

Robin Uthappa

Robin Uthappa presented himself a perfect birthday gift with an attacking century that helped Karnataka share honours on the opening day of their four-day Group ‘A’ Ranji Elite Division match against Railways here at the Karnail Singh Stadium on Thursday.

The opener, who turns 26 on Friday, brought up his 12th first-class ton (117, 141b, 10x4, 5x6) as Karnataka, opting to bat first, finished the day on a healthy 284 for seven on a surface that began to turn as early as in the eighth over. The visitors would have found themselves in a far healthier position had Uthappa, battling cramps, survived the last ball of the day. His attempted push to an away going delivery from Jai Prakash Yadav resulted in a simple catch to Murali Kartik in the slips.

Kartik himself was in the thick of action, returning his 34th first-class five-wicket haul (5/76) that put spoke in Karnataka’s wheels. Introduced into the attack in the eighth over of the day, the left-arm spinner purchased enough turn from the pitch right from the first ball he bowled. So long as Uthappa was at the crease, Karnataka were in the driver’s seat, but when the right-hander didn’t return for the post-lunch session due to cramps, Railways made quick inroads.

Having accounted for first three wickets – KB Pawan, Ganesh Satish and Manish Pandey – Kartik sent back CM Gautam in the fourth over of the second session. Amit Verma fell to a momentary indiscretion, playing Arien Konwar in the air. With five down for 165, Karnataka were certainly in a spot of bother when a fortuitous Stuart Binny (68, 138b, 9x4) and Vinay Kumar (43 batting, 156b, 3x4) guided their team out of troubled waters with a determined 94-run partnership. If Uthappa’s breezy innings raised visions of a big total, Binny-Vinay association rescued Karnataka from a mishap.

Even as Uthappa, who was watched by Rahul Dravid from the pavilion, went on a boundary-hitting spree, Kartik kept pegging Karnataka back with three blows in the opening session. While Pawan appeared tentative, Ganesh once again failed to build on his good start. It was, however, Pandey’s dismissal that was most disappointing, slamming a juicy full toss straight into the throat of mid-wicket fielder in the final over before lunch. The session, though, belonged to Uthappa who was oblivious to the vagaries of the pitch. There were occasions when he appeared to be rushing things, but given his style of play that was only par for the course.

The five sixes in his innings were an ample proof that the right-hander wasn’t averse to taking the aerial route, but it wasn’t mindless slogging. Four of those sixes were hit in the ‘V’ that naturally minimised the risk factor. He was particularly severe against Konwar, depositing the off-spinner thrice over the fence but quite watchful against Kartik. He was slow, but only relatively, to reach his fifty for which he consumed 62 balls but took just another 46 balls to complete his century well inside the first session.

Struggling with cramps, the Kodava lad didn’t take the field after lunch that took the momentum off the innings. Uthappa returned to the crease at the fall of the sixth wicket after a lengthy treatment, and was looking as threatening when the wily Yadav foxed him to help the hosts stay even-stevens. Given the pace-heavy attack of Karnataka, it was a clever ploy by the Railways to prepare a turning track, but any total in the vicinity of 350 will be a daunting task for the home team. While Karnataka will still back their pacemen to do the job, KP Appanna will be hoping for another good outing. If need be, even S Arvind can turn to left-arm spin.

Score board

KARNATAKA (I Innings): Robin Uthappa c Kartik b Yadav 117 (188m, 141b, 10x4, 5x6), KB Pawan c Marupuri b Kartik 8 (44m, 34b, 1x4), Ganesh Satish c Bangar b Kartik 26 (94m, 82b, 2x4, 1x6), Manish Pandey c Khanolkar b Kartik 4 (8m, 5b, 1x4), Amit Verma c Yadav b Konwar 8 (48m, 37b), CM Gautam c Khanolkar b Kartik 7 (13m, 11b, 1x4), Stuart Binny c Khanolkar b Kartik 68 (157m, 138b, 9x4), R Vinay Kumar (batting) 43 (163m, 156b, 3x4). Extras (NB-3) 3. Total (for 7 wkts, 99 overs) 284.

Fall of wickets: 1-34 (Pawan), 2-135 (Ganesh), 3-139 (Pandey), 4-148 (Gautam), 5-165 (Verma), 6-259 (Binny), 7-284 (Uthappa). Bowling: J P Yadav 14-5-31-1, S Bangar 7-2-28-0, M  Kartik 32-5-76-5 (nb-3), N Chauhan 17-2-60-0, A Konwar 24-4-81-1, S Khanolkar 5-2-8-0.

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