Debutant Sharath rocks UP

Karnataka paceman scalps five-for to restrict hosts to 273/9; Kaif slams ton

A debutant and an experienced campaigner stole the show on an eventful opening day of the Ranji Trophy Group B clash between Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh here at the Victoria Park ground.

HS Sharath, the strapping Karnataka paceman, and Mohammad Kaif, the UP stalwart, came up with inspired performances in exciting battle for supremacy between bat and ball. While Sharath’s dream debut (5/60) put Karnataka with their noses slightly in front, Kaif’s century (122, 247b, 11x4, 1x6) on a pitch that kept the pacers interested throughout the day helped the hosts stay in the game.

After they sent UP into bat on a typically nippy north Indian winter morning, Karnataka, without the services of two of their most experienced bowlers, put the hosts through a stern test of probing pace bowling to leave them reeling at 273 for nine at close of the opening day’s play. Take out Kaif’s composed ton and there’s little to talk about the UP innings.

It was a good toss to win as Karnataka needed all the early assistance from the pitch to negate the inexperience in their bowling attack which included three debutants, the other two being pacer Ronit More and off-spinner K Gowtham.

While More had just one wicket to show for his otherwise impressive effort, Gowtham could do little on a track that had little for his type. Sharath, chosen ahead of SL Akshay simply going by the form, put the UP batsmen in all sorts of trouble to return a handsome haul.

The 19-year-old, standing over 6’ 2’’ and with a physique to match, worked up good pace and generated disconcerting bounce for which the UP batsmen had no answer. Only Kaif, who had to summon all his experience, tackled the young quick with some degree of confidence and comfort while the rest of the top-order, including skipper Suresh Raina, failed the scrutiny.

Yes, there were a few things going for the bowlers so far as the pitch was concerned but that is no guarantee for success. For someone playing his first Ranji match, Sharath appeared remarkably composed and while the right-arm bowler did have a go at Piyush Chawla and some late order batsmen on occasions, never did he lose his focus. It took just seven balls for Sharath to claim his maiden Ranji victim, opener Ali Murtaza, a late replacement for the injured Tanmay Srivastava, being bowled through the gate.

Skipper Stuart Binny then grabbed a brilliant return offer, diving full length to his left to dismiss Mukul Dagar. Karnataka’s catching was at its best on the day. Manish Pandey later completed an excellent catch on the fence, covering at least 20 yards from long-on towards the sightscreen to cut short Chawla’s innings. The 23-year-old appeared to have misjudged the catch but held on to the ball inches from the ground as he made a desperate lunge forward.

Raina picked up three quick boundaries but played on a Sharath delivery to disappoint a good gathering. Parvinder Singh had no clue as Sharath got one to rise sharply and take the edge en route to KB Pawan at second slip. With one long opening spell (9-5-21-3), Sharath had reduced the home team to 40/4 as Karnataka effectively overcame the absence of R Vinay Kumar and A Mithun.

While the likes of Arish Alam (27), Chawla (23) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (36) prevented the free fall, Kaif was the rock around which UP built their competitive total. The right-hander quickly sized up the conditions and showed the requisite skill to overcome the myriad challenges posed by the visiting attack.

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