Karun stars for Karnataka

Visitors take 81-run lead against Punjab to inch towards spot in final

Karun stars for Karnataka
On another sun-kissed day, Karnataka took a giant step towards ensuring a place in the final after surviving some anxious moments against a spirited, but at times a rather desperate Punjab attack.

Karnataka, overnight 39/2 in pursuit of hosts’ first-innings total of 270, found multiple batting heroes but none more impressive than Karun Nair (107 batting, 311m, 191b, 9x4) who produced his third century in as many matches. When Nair walked in at the fall of Robin Uthappa (47, 109b, 4x4, 1x6), Karnataka were 94 for three, a vulnerable position in the context of the match. The right-hander, however, stood up to some quality bowling and liberal lip service from the home players to carve out a century that all but shut Punjab out of the Ranji Trophy semifinal at the PCA Stadium. When stumps were drawn due to bad light on an extended Monday’s third day, Karnataka were 351/5 -- a lead of 81 runs and a promise of more.

The day began on a disappointing note for Punjab as umpires changed the ball only 10 deliveries into the morning session in what appeared to be a case of changing the condition of the ball. Punjab medium pacer Sandeep Sharma shook his head in disapproval and understandably so. Till then Sandeep and other Punjab pacemen – MS Gony and Jaskaran Singh – were getting the ball to dart in and shape away at their will. The ball had begun to reverse on the second evening itself when it was hardly 15-over old and Uthappa and Manish Pandey (65, 215m, 131b, 6x4, 1x6) could manage a mere 15 runs off 78 balls between them.

Once the ball was replaced, the duo began to play freely. The run-rate picked up as did Punjab’s frustration, especially when Uthappa was given not out for a glove-pad catch at forward short leg off Harbhajan Singh by umpire Subrat Das. The off-spinner did have the Kodava lad in his next over at the same score of 47 but the umpire had gotten it wrong again as the ball had hit him outside off. Das, who had denied Karnataka of two wickets on the second day, continued to have a bad day when he gave Pandey (on 48) and Amit Verma not out when the appeals were genuine.    
 
That, however, shouldn’t take anything away from Karnataka’s batting. Nair, who had centuries against Delhi (105) and Uttar Pradesh (100) in his two previous matches, looked assured and overcame the testing period when Harbhajan threatened to make a serious dent. The 22-year-old, who had a rather poor start to his career, showed maturity of a seasoned campaigner as he constructed three valuable partnerships. As Nair held one end up, it allowed his partners the freedom to play their natural game. The last two centuries also are a genuine reflection of youngster’s big-match temperament.    
The Punjab skipper bowled beautifully, drifting the ball and getting it to turn appreciably but he was undone by his defensive mindset. Pandey and Nair were allowed easy singles and once the partnership took shape, they began to collect boundaries. 64 runs came for the fourth wicket before Pandey, in a moment of lapse in concentration, wafted at a widish delivery from Sandeep and nicked behind the wicket at the stroke of lunch.
    
The arrival of CM Gautam (48, 55b, 6x4) provided a big impetus to Karnataka innings. Having regained form with a century in the quarterfinal, Gautam began with a confident sweep off Harbhajan and then drove Sandeep through covers before pulling the paceman with authority. Runs came at a fast clip in the middle session as the duo added 83 runs in 113 balls before Gautam became Harbhajan’s second victim. By then, though, Karnataka were at a sniffing distance of taking the innings lead.

Verma (65 batting, 152b, 11x4), playing his first match of the season, appeared a bit rusty and managed just six runs from his first 59 balls. The southpaw changed gears once he picked his first boundary that also gave Karnataka the lead. His next 59 runs came off 93 balls as he added 110 runs for the unfinished sixth-wicket partnership with Nair, whose solidity was matched only by his industry.


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