Karthik slams a century after Kulkarni takes five
Tamil Nadu 269 for 9 (Karthik 102*, Sriram 51, Kulkarni 5-82) v Mumbai
An unbeaten hundred from 19-year-old Dinesh Karthik saved Tamil Nadu as they struggled against Mumbai on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy Elite Group final at Chennai. At the close, Tamil Nadu were 269 for 9, with Karthik 102 not out.
It was Nilesh Kulkarni's 5 for 82 which broke the backbone of arguably the strongest batting line-up in the country. But most of the batsmen were guilty of irresponsible shots, and Tamil Nadu squandered a great chance to drive home the advantage of winning the toss. Were it not for Karthik, who was dropped at long-off on 45, it would have been so much worse.
His innings showed tremendous maturity, and he was quickly into his stride with some neat drives. And it was not all dour defence - he had the tiny crowd on their feet immediately after tea as he laced Aavishkar Salvi for four fours in an over, in the process hitting him out of the attack. A flick off his pads was executed without fuss, a late-cut glided effortlessly. But two majestic cover drives made those who were still sitting stand up and applaud. He batted sensibly despite losing partners at regular intervals.
The morning belonged to Mumbai. Munaf Patel found the spot immediately, inducing an edge from Sadagoppan Ramesh to Vinayak Samant, the wicketkeeper, in his second over (5 for 1). But Somasetty Suresh, dropped by Wasim Jaffer at second slip, and Sridharan Sriram guided Tamil Nadu to a comfortable position within sight of lunch. Suresh latched on to a few wide ones and slapped a few crisp drives through the covers.
As expected, the pitch was a belter and a big total appeared to be on the cards until Suresh needlessly wafted at Kulkarni, was undone by the extra bounce, and gave Jaffer the first of five catches in the slips (74 for 2). And like a champion that had sniffed blood, Mumbai drove home their advantage when Kulkarni forced Subramaniam Badrinath to prop forward and Manoj Joglekar completed a sharp chance at forward short leg (74 for 3).
Hemang Badani's first four was a flourishing cover-drive off Kulkarni, but thereafter he grew increasingly frustrated. When Kulkarni threw one up, Badani didn't hold back but only edged to Jaffer at first slip (122 for 4). And then Sriram's impetuosity got the better of him. He had twice got himself into a tangle while attempting the reverse-sweep, and the third time he only succeeded in slapping it to Jaffer. His five fours were elegant, but his innings will be remembered for those three atrocious shots.
As Karthik ploughed on, the rest succumbed. Sreedharan Sharath was unlucky to be given out caught in the slips - TV replays showed the ball struck his pad (207 for 6). And the tailenders were too intent on playing their strokes and hardly put up a fight, with Bahutule taking 3 for 46 in his final spell.
But the day was Karthik's. He reached his hundred off the final over, squaring up and carting Munaf over midwicket. Every Mumbai player shook his hand before he walked off and as far as the mood was concerned today, the kid had done his college proud.
Syed Kirmani, chairman of selectors, termed it as a "gutsy, timely knock." Chandrakant Pandit, the Mumbai coach, was more effusive. "I was looking at restricting them to 225 during the tea break. But Karthik played a fantastic innings. I don't think we bowled too well after tea, but Karthik's was a special knock."
But on this pitch, and given Tamil Nadu's thin bowling resources, Mumbai already hold all the aces.