Karnataka in total command

Rahul smashes century, Uthappa dazzles as Vinay & Co open up 169-run lead

Karnataka in total command

Stranger things have happened in cricket but unless Karnataka resort to self-destruction during the course of next two days, Maharashtra can kiss a good bye to their title hopes.

After a largely unimpressive show with both the ball and the bat on Thursday, Maharashtra bowlers came up with a much-improved performance but by then they had conceded too much ground to Karnataka who finished on a commanding 474 for seven, establishing a healthy 169-run lead on the third day of the Ranji Trophy final here at the Rajiv Gandhi international cricket stadium on Friday. Shreyas Gopal (9) and skipper Vinay Kumar (8) would look to extend the cushion as they may have to bat last on a pitch that is likely to crumble.

While Karnataka are seemingly on top of the game, Maharashtra’s comeback win against Mumbai in the quarterfinal shouldn’t be lost on them.

Mumbai had taken 122-run first innings lead but they still went on to lose the match by eight wickets. The approach of Karnataka batsmen towards the end was also a bit strange as they shut the shop too early, especially Amit Verma (29, 102b) and to an extent Karun Nair (44, 118b, 4x4). A little of urgency would have put them in a far more comfortable situation.    
 
Resuming at their overnight score of 230 for no loss, Karnataka added 244 runs on the day that saw KL Rahul (131, 432m, 273b, 13x4, 2x6) become only the second batsman from the State to gather 1000 runs in a season after Vijay Bharadwaj who had amassed 1280 in the 1998-99 season.

Though overnight centurion Ganesh Satish (117) was dismissed in the first over of the day (bowled by off-spinner Chirag Thakur’s delivery that turned and kept low) ending their 203-run partnership, Rahul and Robin Uthappa (72, 181m, 108b, 10x4, 1x6) strengthened Karnataka’s position with an 88-run stand for the second wicket that came at a fairly fast clip.     

Uthappa, showing little signs of discomfort of the elbow injury he had sustained on the second day, played an attacking innings as he took a particular liking to spinners. Uthappa was also the beneficiary of Maharashtra fielders’ largesse early in his innings and he made them pay for it with his second half-century of the season.

Unlike his previous two substantial innings, the right-hander shed his new-found cautious approach and played more freely that prevented the bowlers from getting on top of the game after their early success.

Rahul, who brought up his third century of the season, remained in absolute control of his innings, occasionally breaking his sedate style with the odd boundary.

Grinding it out

Fighting watery eyes and exhaustion with regular intakes of electrolyte mixed in coconut water, Rahul wasn’t in the best of shapes physically, but he continued his vigil for a little over two hours in the first session to frustrate Maharashtra bowlers.     
 
It was during their association that Karnataka went past Maharashtra’s first innings total of 305 all out and just when it appeared the two openers would bat the rivals out of the game, they fell in quick succession off paceman Shrikant Mundhe. Rahul nicked Mundhe to wicketkeeper Rohit Motwani while Uthappa perished soon after lunch attempting to slice the same bowler.

As if taking a cue from Mundhe, left-arm seamer Samad Fallah (3/74) produced a fine spell of swing bowling in the middle session of the day.

The 28-year-old bowler accounted for a well-set Manish Pandey and CM Gautam in a spell of 7-2-18-2 to cause some jitters in the Karnataka camp but Nair and Verma, before he was dismissed by Fallah, prevented the free fall. Nair, coming on the back off three tons in a row, was a bit unlucky to be given out by umpire Anil Chaudhary who detected a nick when Motwani held on to the ball off a reverse sweep though the TV replays suggested the sound was of the bat hitting the turf.     

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