Karnataka had to do all the running to make a match of it after having surrendered the early advantage. It, however, remains to be seen if the hosts’ effort on the third day would be enough to fetch them their fourth win on the trot.
Having conceded a narrow but critical 18-run lead to Mumbai, Karnataka batted with purpose right from the word go in their second hit. R Samarth produced a confident half-century (75, 157m, 111b, 10x4) at the top of the order but it was Manish Pandey who stole the show with a swashbuckling hundred (119, 201m, 147b, 13x4, 2x6). The 133-run partnership off just 167 balls between Samarth and Pandey for the third wicket was the cornerstone of Karnataka’s 287 for eight that has put them 269 runs ahead in their Group A Ranji Trophy match here at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
On a slow surface where the odd ball is either keeping low or kicking up, the target appears handy but fitness concerns to two of their most experienced pacemen -- Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun -- may just upset their plans. If Karnataka were handicapped on Monday’s second day with Vinay Kumar unable to bowl more than eight overs, on Tuesday’s penultimate day, paceman Abhimanyu Mithun’s absence due to an ankle injury further reduced the firepower in their attack as Mumbai, overnight 217/7, coasted to 269 all out.
Skipper Vinay did take the field on the day but he couldn’t bowl immediately as he had remained off the field for most part of the second day. With Stuart Binny leaking a few runs, left-arm spinner KP Appanna had to operate with the new ball along with HS Sharath (5/57) for whom this was the second five-wicket haul of the season and third of his fledgling career.
While Karnataka camp exuded confidence that both Vinay and Mithun would be fit to bowl on the final day, a depleted Mumbai have showed they are capable of stonewalling the famed Karnataka attack.
A draw, which means just one point for Karnataka, will still keep Vinay’s men on top of the table on 27 points but a loss, a difficult but not quite improbable proposition, will push them back to the second spot. For the moment Karnataka will be looking for some quick runs on the final morning so that their bowlers can go for the jugular.
That they can think of pulling off a win was made possible by the enterprise shown by Pandey and Samarth. Betraying few signs of nervousness for a debutant, Samarth, not unlike in the first innings, went with a positive approach. Notwithstanding the back-to-back dismissals of Karun Nair -- opening the innings in place of KL Rahul who couldn’t bat till five wickets fell for having remained off the field the whole of Mumbai’s innings on Monday -- and Shreyas Gopal, the Mysore-born stayed on top of visiting attack.
An attractive bat with a compact game, Samarth also fed off the energy that Pandey brought to the middle. Having put the first-innings disappointment behind him, Pandey took the attack to the Mumbai camp, in a stunning display of stroke-play.
“He played some mindboggling strokes,” said Mumbai’s top-scorer Siddesh Lad while describing Pandey’s innings. The 24-year-old, who appears to reserve his best against Mumbai, brought up his 11 Ranji Trophy ton, 13th in first-class cricket, as Karnataka scored at more than four runs an over.
At 222 for four and with Pandey and Stuart Binny primed to accelerate in the final session of play, Karnataka looked to strengthen their position but a spate of wickets – four in the space of 65 runs – somewhat pegged them back.