Karnataka batsmen stumble on day one

Gautam, Kapoor stage recovery act to take hosts to 290 all out as TN bowlers call shots

Karnataka batsmen stumble on day one

The syrupy romance that preluded Karnataka’s first day of the new season as Ranji Trophy champions vanished along with the five wickets they lost in the opening session.

Nervous pokes and an inane run-out saw a top and middle-order brimming with fine talent getting folded for just 97 after Tamil Nadu skipper R Prasanna asked Karnataka to bat first in their Group ‘A’ match on Sunday. With five wickets down, the ebullient batting displays of a title-winning last season seemed so remote then.

That early stumble might have told Kunal Kapoor (87, 142b, 18x4) and CM Gautam (94, 135b, 14x4, 2x6) about the futility of bravado on a pitch with generous smattering of green, causing good carry. They knuckled down to add 95 runs off 138 balls for the sixth-wicket, foundation for Karnataka’s first innings total of 290 all out. Tamil Nadu were 22 for no loss at close, trailing by 268 runs.

Karnataka were in turmoil when Kapoor and Gautam came together. However, there was an undeniable charm around their partnership, the kind you feel when two unlikely players come together to halt a rampaging opposition. They were two of the least talked about members of Karnataka’s title-winning class last season.

Gautam had played all 11 matches, but made just 436 runs at 29.06. Kunal played only five games scoring 167 at 23.85. They were barely mentionable figures when some of your teammates score upwards of 1000 and 700 runs at whopping averages.

 Gautam had also lacked serious match time because of a surgery prior to the season. But this day, those run-machines malfunctioned, forcing Gautam and Kunal to push that sketchy past behind to play the lead roles. They did that with little fuss.

There, of course, were early jitters when J Kaushik, L Balaji and M Mohammad, the three Tamil Nadu pacers, tested their skill and temperament. Kaushik was the most impressive of the trio. He employed that old two-card trick – mixing the incoming and outgoing deliveries – to befuddle batsmen.

Mayank Agarwal and Karun Nair couldn’t survive that searing test of judgment, offering catches to Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps. Stuart Binny’s wild slash could only provide an edge to Abhinav Mukund at gully. In two superb spells (7-2-25-1 and 4-2-8-2) Kaushik rocked Karnataka.  Balaji too followed a similar path, and was rewarded with the wicket of Robin Uthappa. In recent times, Uthappa had embraced patience at the beginning before cutting loose in the later stages of his innings. But this day, he was in an atavistic mood, starting his knock in a tearing hurry before Balaji applied breaks with a delivery that moved a bit.

Manish Pandey attempted a tight second run, but could not beat Mohammad’s throw to Karthik. Karnataka had lost five wickets in 25.4 overs. But in a way that collapse turned the focus on those two understated names, and it was about time too.

That Tamil Nadu chose to keep most of their players within the circle in that period too helped them, particularly Kunal who fetched boundaries in a cluster once he overcame the testing phase. There were drives – straight and through the covers – cuts and pulls as Karnataka board sprang to life.

But Kunal missed a golden chance to make a third first-class hundred. The right-hander played outside the line to Mohamamd’s incoming delivery only to lose his stumps. By the time Kunal was jettisoned, Gautam, 30 then, had regained fluency.

 Shreyas Gopal gave solid company to Gautam as Karnataka stitched together their second meaningful stand of the day, 56 runs off 104 balls for the seventh wicket. Gautam opened up during this alliance, displaying wide range of shots – from reverse sweep to thumping hits over the fence as Karnataka began to pile some late runs.

Mohammad snapped the blooming alliance, ousting Shreyas and skipper R Vinay Kumar couldn’t pull off one of his cameos as Karnataka innings gradually came to a halt. Gautam’s 11th first-class hundred could have consoled Karnataka but Balaji ensured that there was no such joy for the hosts.

Now, their bowlers, sans an injured A Mithun, need to take inspiration from the fight shown by Gautam and Kunal to wrest back the initiative from Tamil Nadu.

DH News Service
KARNATAKA (I Innings): Robin Uthappa c Karthik b Balaji 14 (18m, 13b, 3x4), Mayank Agarwal c Karthik b Kaushik 9 (20m, 14b, 2x4), Kunal Kapoor b Mohammad 87 (212m, 142b, 18x4), Manish Pandey (run out) 24 (40m, 25b, 5x4), Karun Nair c Karthik b Kaushik 9 (47m, 24b, 1x4), Stuart Binny c Mukund b Kaushik 7 (20m, 18b, 1x4), CM Gautam c Rangarajan b Balaji 94 (205m, 135b, 14x2, 2x6), Shreyas Gopal c Indrajith b Mohammad 24 (61m, 54b, 3x4), R Vinay Kumar b Mohamamd 0 (8m, 6b), S Arvind (not out) 4 (38m, 22b), HS Sharath b Kaushik 3 (5m, 5b); Extras (LB-3, NB-12) 15, Total (all out, 74.2 overs) 290.

Fall of wickets: 1-25 (Uthappa), 2-25 (Agarwal), 3-53 (Pandey), 4-75 (Karun), 5-97 (Binny), 6-192 (Kunal), 7-248 (Shreyas), 8-254 (Vinay), 9-287 (Gautam).
Bowling: J Kaushik 18.2-6-53-4 (nb-3), L Balaji 16-3-50-2 (nb-2), M Mohammad 19-6-80-3, Vijay Shankar 6-0-40-0 (nb-7), Malolan Rangarajan 11-2-52-0, Kaushik Gandhi 4-2-12-0.
TAMIL NADU (I Innings): Kaushik Gandhi (batting) 12 (42m, 35b, 1x4), Abhinav Mukund (batting) 10 (42m, 25b), Total (for no loss in 10 overs) 22.
Bowling: R Vinay Kumar 5-0-17-0, S Arvind 4-1-5-0, HS Sharath 1-1-0-0.

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