Wickets tumble, but Punjab ahead
Karnataka 183 for 5 (Binny 69*) trail Punjab 357 (Sidhana 92, Kanwar 89, Goel 71) by 174 runs
Seeing the scorecard at tea on the second day, you'd be forgiven for thinking the surface at the Chinnaswamy Stadium had transformed overnight from the featherbed it was on the first. Punjab had sauntered to 278 for 4 on Tuesday, but ten wickets went down in the first two sessions today for 154. It took a free-swinging unbroken 83-run stand between Stuart Binny and CM Gautam in the evening to show that there were no gremlins in the track.
The collapses in the first two sessions came about more due to poor strokes than the bowling, which was tight without being overly threatening. Despite folding well before lunch, Punjab ended the day ahead as Karnataka's top order put in a feeble performance. One of Karnataka's strengths this season has been that they haven't been overly dependent on any single batsman - five of their players have already made 300 or more runs this Ranji season. From a seemingly hopeless 100 for 5 in reply to Punjab's 357, Binny kickstarted a revival that at least gives them an outside chance of taking the first-innings lead.
Both sides are fielding virtually second-string bowling line-ups - Punjab are missing the injured Harbhajan Singh, Manpreet Gony and Love Ablish while Karnataka are without Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar and fast bowler SL Akshay. To add to that lengthy list, Karnataka's spearhead S Aravind was also sidelined on the first afternoon with a knee injury.
A day for piling on the runs, then? It seemed as much when Punjab began with a couple of boundaries in the first three overs, but when the new ball was taken, it asked more questions of the batsmen. Binny got it to swing around, while NC Aiyappa made Amitoze Singh nervously survive a bottom-edge towards slip, an lbw shout and a caught-behind appeal in the same over.
It was the left-arm spinner KP Appanna who made the big breakthrough, removing Mayank Sidhana caught-behind down the leg side for 92. The batsman couldn't believe the decision, and his disappointment was more than just at missing out on a century. Amitoze soon became the second run-out victim of the innings, and two balls later Bipul Sharma nicked to slip. Punjab's lower order was rolled over quickly, and Karnataka were batting earlier than they would have expected.
It didn't begin well though as the biggest name in the line-up, Robin Uthappa, flicked the first delivery of the innings to give square leg a catch. Debutant fast bowler Baltej Singh bowled with pace and troubled the batsmen, getting the ball to jag past the outside edge on several occasions. KB Pawan and Ganesh Satish responded with an overly cautious approach, and though the bowling became less troublesome once the shine went off the ball, they plodded to 50 in 28 overs.
Satish perished as he attempted to release the pressure with a lofted drive, only to chip it to point. Bharat Chipli also fell to a botched drive that ended as a caught & bowled. Pawan survived two dropped chances, on the second of which the bowler Rahul Sharma set off on an extravagant celebration before realising it had been put down at slip. Rahul did get a chance to reprise it later as he had Pawan top-edging to the keeper for a nearly three-hour 32.
Binny came out biffing sixes, and seemingly wondering what the top order had been worried about. He muscled boundaries through cover and point, and a swipe over midwicket brought up his half-century in 49 deliveries. Gautam was no slouch either, though most of his runs came through fours behind the wickets, either controlled sweeps or glides to third man. They took Karnataka halfway to the Punjab total, but the visitors will still be the happier side halfway through the match.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo