Carefree Karthik bludgeons Central Zone
Dinesh Karthik had once raised eyebrows by stating that his attitude was "over-positive". The adjective is perhaps apt for his 113-ball 153 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium that bumped Central Zone from pole position to playing catch-up; from 86 for 6, South Zone rocketed along to a more-than-acceptable 290 for 8 by the time he was dismissed. Nothing deterred Karthik from his aggressive batting - the loss of wickets, a flurry of close shaves, two Test-class spinners, approaching session breaks.
After Central's pace trio of Pankaj Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav had razed a much-vaunted South batting line-up, left-arm-spinner Murali Kartik was given the final over before lunch. Karthik could have played for the break; instead, he flicked the first ball against the turn for four and, a few balls later, took a big stride out and wristily dispatched the ball through midwicket. Even that was the calm before the storm.
The next 34 overs yielded 188 runs, of which Karthik made 137. This, despite a chancy first half-hour after the break, characterised by one over from Pankaj. One ball flew over short third man for four off a thick outside edge, another beat him after straightening. That was followed by an immaculate on-drive to the boundary and a french-cut four to reach his fifty. Three times he could have been out in that over; instead, when it ended, he was 12 runs richer.
He then decided to combat Pankaj, who was operating just below the 130 kph mark, by standing well outside his crease. That helped him reel off three more boundaries in Pankaj's next over, and the bowler who'd troubled Karthik the most was taken out of the attack.
Tamil Nadu spinner R Ashwin, who had provided subdued but solid support, was dismissed soon after, and Karthik found another capable aide in the Andhra legspinner, M Suresh, who showed traces of the defensive technique he had acquired during his early cricket years as an opener.
Batting with the tail encouraged Karthik's everything-must-go mindset. The day's most impressive bowler, the pacy Umesh, was punched on the up through extra cover and Uttar Pradesh's standout bowler of the season, Bhuvneshwar, was treated with even less respect - an eye-catching off drive was followed by a down-the-track loft beside the sightscreen. The dangerous quick bowlers had been taken care of, and his hundred came up soon after with an outside edge past the keeper.
There was little in the pitch for the spinners and the Kookaburra ball used for the Duleep Trophy, with its depressed seam, made it harder for them to grip the ball. Karthik's second fifty had come off 33 balls but the day's most exhilarating passage of play was yet to come. Three successive slog sweeps off legspinner Piyush Chawla sailed into the stands, and Central were completely dispirited as Karthik consumed just 18 balls to zoom along to 150.
With just two overs to go, his luck finally caught up with him. He tried to launch Bhuvneshwar over the infield but ended up spooning a catch to mid-off.
His fourth century of the season, and a brutal match-transforming one at that, was just the statement Karthik needed to make, especially with the chairman of the national selection panel Kris Srikkanth looking on, to reclaim an Indian team berth.
With Mahendra Singh Dhoni's spectacularly dizzy rise, Karthik knows there's no chance of a reprise of the fierce battle for the gloves between Farokh Engineer and Budhi Kunderan in the 1960s. With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir taking a mortagage on the opening slots, the only way back is by racking up the big scores to get ahead of the pack of talented youngsters jostling for a middle-order berth. More days like this where everything falls in place will help the powers-that-be forget last year's disastrous Sri Lanka tour.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo