Manish Pandey and Karun Nair lived up to their reputation of big-match players to put Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy semifinal for the second successive time here on Friday.
When Karnataka reached 45/3 at stumps on the third day, still 139 runs behind the target, the contest was nicely balanced. Rajasthan’s in-form three-pronged pace attack and the uneven bounce on the pitch raised the possibility of an upset.
But Pandey (87 n.o, 75b, 14x4, 2x6) and Nair (61 n.o., 129b, 6x4) made a mockery of the predictions, helping the hosts ease to a six-wicket win here at the Chinnaswamy stadium. The duo stitched an unbroken stand of 129 runs as Karnataka crossed the finish line in just one session.
Karnataka next face the winners of the quarterfinal between Saurashtra-Uttar Pradesh from January 24.
It was a perfect start to the morning for Rajasthan when they saw the back of Ronit More (8) very early. More nicked a Tanveer-Ul Haq (1/46) delivery to the wicketkeeper. In fact, More, who played his role of a nightwatchman well, almost survived. The on-field umpires went upstairs to check for a no-ball. Two camera angles couldn’t provide conclusive evidence and Rajasthan players rejoiced.
However, Pandey’s decision to attack from the go meant Karnataka didn’t face a lengthy period of anxiety. It was in the 25th over that Rajasthan’s confidence first took a beating when Pandey slammed three fours off Tanveer. The right-hander sliced one uppishly and then edged one behind the wickets. Pandey was lucky with the third when the ball took an inside edge and raced to the fence. None of the three boundaries had come in convincing fashion but in a tricky chase, it didn't matter how the runs came.
After an edgy start, Pandey came into his own with some stunning strokes. A brilliant straight drive off left-arm seamer Aniket Choudhary was followed by an inside-out shot for four. The introduction of spin didn’t help Rajasthan much as Pandey didn’t take his foot off the accelerator. He pulled a short one off Rahul Chahar for four and then slammed a low full toss from the leg-spinner past the mid-wicket fence.
Nair’s poise was perfect for the scenario as the right-hander held one end up firmly. After a torturous stay in the middle on the third day, a couple of cover drives for four off Tanveer in the morning offered Nair some self-assurance. Nair and Pandey brought up their 50-run partnership in just 63 balls and the visitors began losing the plot.
Apart from some needless appealing, Rajasthan made a big blunder. At 119/4, Deepak Chahar, standing at mid-on, dropped a regulation catch offered by Pandey. With that, Rajasthan’s hopes of a comeback evaporated. Pandey provided the perfect gift to the sparse-yet-passionate home supporters by slamming a six and two fours to wrap up the tie.
R Vinay Kumar, whose invaluable 83 in the first innings gave Karnataka a 39-run lead, was adjudged the man-of-the-match. “The way Vinay batted was the reason why we won the game quite comfortably. Vinay has done this in the past and his partnership with More was the turning point,” Pandey said later, praising the former captain.