Jadhav delays Karnataka's surge

Maharashtra take token lead on day four; Vinay grabs 300th first-class wicket

Jadhav delays Karnataka's surge

For the second successive day, Maharashtra enjoyed the better of exchanges but Karnataka, despite showing an inexplicably defensive approach, still remained the overwhelming favourites to win their seventh Ranji Trophy.

Overnight 474/7 and 169 runs ahead, Karnataka innings lasted 69 minutes in the morning during which they added 41 runs before being bowled out for 515. With a handsome 210-run cushion, Karnataka were expected to squeeze Maharashtra further with an attacking strategy. But surprisingly, they went on the defensive at the first hint of aggression from the Maharashtra batsmen. Admittedly, they didn’t have any choice but to go on the offensive. Even so, there was no justification for the way Karnataka went about their business.

Maharashtra weren’t complaining though. Allowed some easy runs, their batsmen punished Karnataka bowlers with some positive cricket and ended Saturday’s penultimate day of the Ranji Trophy final on 272/6 for a 62-run lead here at the Rajiv Gandhi international cricket stadium. Kedar Jadhav, who crossed 1200 runs for the season, struck a sparkling 112 (229m, 135b, 10x4) that was the cornerstone of Maharashtra’s admirable fightback.

It might appear a bit unfair to criticise a team that still holds majority of the aces in this contest, but the truth is Karnataka did let Maharashtra off the hook for a while. Skipper R Vinay Kumar, who has led from the front with a proactive approach, strangely spread the field to give away easy singles and twos and settle down without having to try too hard. 

This also helped Maharashtra batsmen gather four runs per over, defeating Karnataka’s very purpose of containing the flow of runs. Not only did they have the advantage of 210 runs, but Vinay (4/84) had prised out both the openers with the score reading only 54. This should have inspired Karnataka to apply more pressure but all they did was gift away runs.    

Productive alliance

At one stage, Maharashtra were cruising at 172 for two with Jadhav and Ankit Bawne (61, 115b, 4x4), who brought up his fourth successive half-century, forging the most productive association of the innings. The duo batted with such ease that it made mockery of the perceived slow nature of the surface. Shreyas Gopal (2/37) broke the 118-run (159b) partnership with a beautiful leg-spinner. Bawne, in an attempt to prevent Shreyas taking advantage of the rough outside the leg-stump, stepped out but the bowler shortened the length and beat him fair and square for CM Gautam to complete a simple stumping. In the next over, a promoted Sangram Atitkar top-edged to Amit Verma at short fine leg.

Jadhav, however, stayed firm and the right-hander revived the innings in the company of an obdurate Chirag Khurana (37). There appeared to be a sense of unease, if not panic, in the Karnataka camp and they resorted to outside off-stump line bowling to deny runs. They were partly successful in that job but what came to their rescue once again was Vinay’s experience.

In a way, the 29-year-old, who joined the 300-wicket club in first-class cricket with the wicket of Jadhav, atoned for his slip-up with two quick wickets towards the end of the innings. Sensing that the game could drift away, Vinay took matters in his own hands and sent down 21 overs for the day. Consistently bowling the sixth-stump line on the off, the right-arm pacer choked the runs to a large extent and his two fulltosses wide on the off earned him the wickets of both Khurana and Jadhav, once again tilting the balance in favour of Karnataka.      

With only four wickets in hand, Maharashtra have a tough task of posting a challenging target to Karnataka batsmen on the final day with skipper Rohit Motwani providing the lone hope.

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