Saurashtra bounce back in style

Pathak, Joshi score fighting half-centuries as hosts take 221-run lead on penultimate day



Displaying the qualities that took them to the semifinals last year, Saurashtra launched a stirring fightback on day three of the Ranji Trophy Super League Group B tie. Trailing by 168 on the first innings, Jaydev Shah’s men finished the penultimate evening on 389 for eight and an overall lead of 221, a very good day slightly ruined by the last-ball run out after a terrible mix-up with Pratik Mehta of the pugnacious Vishal Joshi.

In many ways, Joshi epitomised Saurashtra’s spirit even as Karnataka struggled to come to terms with a track still playing true – only occasionally did the ball misbehave – and an opposition determined to redeem itself for a poor first-innings batting effort. Essentially an off-spinner, Joshi dug his heels in, playing some wonderfully fluent strokes and being an equal partner in a stand of 85 (108m, 158b) with the more accomplished Mehta to add to Karnataka’s mounting frustration.

Robin Uthappa’s men were subjected to a brutal counter-attack first thing on Thursday when Saurashtra resumed at 57 without loss, and failed to respond with conviction or penetration. Rocked by the ferocious onslaught unleashed by the diminutive Chirag Pathak and Sagar Jogiyani, Karnataka were always behind the eight-ball for the rest of the day, their bowling lacking the cutting edge and the fielding going to pieces as the wickets failed to come in a rush.

Once again, S Aravind was the pick of the bowlers and left-arm spinner KP Appanna, not introduced until after lunch, acquitted himself with great credit after being ‘called’ for throwing by umpire MG Mandle very early into his 16-over spell, but Karnataka were made to pay a heavy price for lack of consistency. All bowlers – A Mithun and Udit Patel completed the complement of specialist bowlers – followed up a couple of tight deliveries with gifts on both sides of the wicket, making Robin Uthappa’s task of setting fields fairly difficult, though it must be stressed that Uthappa himself could have shown greater imagination at various times.

Saurashtra began like a house on fire, Jogiyani and Pathak matching each other stroke for stroke as runs flowed at the rate of knots inside the first hour. The openers had put on 132 (122m, 164b) when Patel made the breakthrough, and when Pathak threw away a century with a flat-footed waft, Karnataka thought they had one foot in the door.

That foot was firmly repulsed by the classy Cheteshwar Pujara, who had more than one answer to every question posed to him. With Shah and then the adhesive Sitanshu Kotak, Pujara realised valuable runs, his quality all too obvious when he drove down the ground with minimum fuss.
Looking good for a characteristically big knock, Pujara fell to his first false stroke as Mithun sucked him into playing at one delivered from round the stumps that got big on the batsman.

There was no relief for the visitors as Rakesh Dhruv and Kamlesh Makwana kept Mehta decent company, and Joshi joined hands with the left-hander to ensure that on the morrow, Karnataka will have a tricky chase to contend with.

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