Karnataka go down fighting

Pandeys ton in vain as Mumbai score narrow six-run win to retain title

Karnataka go down fighting


The gumption and character, alloyed with rare flair, Karnataka have exhibited all season was best exemplified by another gem from Manish Pandey (144,214m, 151b, 18x4, 1x6) on a tension-soaked Thursday at the Gangotri Glades, but their best efforts weren’t sufficient for the hosts to lay their hands on the coveted Ranji Trophy for a seventh time.

The record books will show that Mumbai grabbed a 39th Ranji crown, by the heart-breakingly slender margin of six runs, but to the massive gathering at the Glades, it was Karnataka who were the true champions.

Always up against it after a first-innings collapse that left them 103 in arrears, Karnataka, resuming at 135/3,  made a wonderful fist chasing a record 338 for victory, getting tantalisingly close before folding up, without disgrace, for 331.

As Srinath Arvind’s leading edge hung in the air for an eternity, some ten thousand hearts were in the mouths until Ajit Agarkar leapt gently in the air to complete a return catch as well as a five-wicket haul, and end four days of wonderful cricket with telling finality, triggering unruly celebrations in the Mumbai camp even as the rest of the ground reverberated with the sound of silence.

To the neutral, a tie would have been the perfect result because neither team deserved to lose, but this is far from a perfect world. As tears flowed copiously in the Karnataka dressing room, Mumbai celebrated with uninhibited gusto, aware that they had got out of jail after having rocked by Pandey’s exceptional talent in the early part of the penultimate day.

Having heard so much about Pandey’s exploits and fired him out first ball in the first innings, Mumbai might have wondered what the fuss was all about. The stylish right-hander provided a sneak preview on Wednesday evening; on Thursday, he wowed everybody, including the Mumbaikars, with a fourth century of the season that made him the leading run-scorer (882 runs) this year.

Till Pandey was doing his bidding with a stoic Ganesh Satish for company, Mumbai were in a daze. For two hours, the score board rattled along as Satish played with refreshing freedom and Pandey batted like only he can, seldom orthodox but always in control of what he was doing.

Wasim Jaffer shuffled his bowlers around, set in-out fields and tried every trick in the book, but neither Pandey nor Satish was in the mood to concede an inch. After early positivity, Satish was happy pulling back, while Pandey carried on unfettered, drawing appreciative gasps and deafening applause from the huge crowd that ate off his hands.

The fourth-wicket duo appeared to have all but shut Mumbai out when Jaffer suddenly woke up to the fact that his highest wicket-taker this season, Iqbal Abdulla, too was in the playing eleven. Introduced in the day’s 27th over for only his third over of the match, the left-arm spinner needed less than two minutes to make a stunning impact.

A strange half-steer from Pandey resulted in a sharp catch to his left at slip by the Mumbai captain, the 20-year-old leaving to a standing ovation after an alliance of 209 (214m, 294b) with Satish. Pandey’s domineering presence had prevented Mumbai’s bowlers from exerting pressure; his departure signaled a dramatic turnaround as the runs suddenly dried up.

Karnataka were jolted by two poor umpiring decisions immediately after Pandey’s fall. Amiesh Saheba adjudged Amit Verma caught down leg off Abdulla when the ball brushed only his pad, while Sanjay Hazare ended Satish’s watchful vigil with a leg before decision in favour of Dhawal Kulkarni as the ball kept low and appeared headed down leg. Some might call it a marginal decision, but it’s amazing how every marginal decision went Mumbai’s way this game.

With the second new ball imminent, Stuart Binny and Sunil Joshi hit out soon after lunch, but the brand new cherry did the trick for Mumbai. Binny was the victim of poor shot selection, Joshi culpable of the same mistake. The lion-hearted R Vinay Kumar did his best, but Mumbai’s impeccable control and relentless pressure were hard to counter. If only just.

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