Bengal v Karnataka, Ranji Trophy semi-final, 3rd day January 25, 2007

Raghu extends Karnataka's lead

Cricinfo staff

Karnataka 317 for 5 (Raghu 78*, Chipli 95, Rowland 52) and 89 lead Bengal 238 by 168 runs

One could be dismissive about cricket as a great leveler being a cliché , yet it came back to haunt the Bengal dressing room today. A resurgent Karnataka outfit put the first day's humiliation behind them to move into a dominant position at the end of third day of the Ranji Trophy Elite division semi-final clash played at the Eden Gardens.

Venkatesh Prasad's boys knuckled down to post a reassuring 168-run lead with half the batting left. The visitors ended the day on 317 for 5, powered by impressive efforts from in-form allrounder Chandrashekar Raghu (78*) and the openers Bharat Chipli (95) and Barrington Rowland (52). Giving Raghu company at stumps was skipper Yere Goud (14*).

If yesterday was all about clawing back into the match, today's matured performance from the Karnataka batsmen put them in command with two full days to go. On paper, it may appear that the below-200 lead isn't all that threatening for the home team. More so, considering that the Eden wicket is slowing down considerably as progressively rising totals of 89, 238 and 317 for 5 reveal.

Today, much depended on the first hour's play, and that's where Karnataka pipped their opponents. Openers Chipli and Rowland played superbly, seeing off the first hour and a half, even as first innings heroes Ranadeb Bose and Sourav Sarkar varied their line and length far too much to be able to put any pressure on the batsmen.

After Chipli and Rowland posted a telling 151-run first wicket stand, 25-year-old Raghu took charge of the proceedings for the larger part of the day, teaming up with newcomer KB Pawan (43) to take the total to 271 for 3. On a pitch that was increasingly becoming batsman-friendly, Bengal adopted the unspectacular leg-side line. It did work out well in the sense that the second session saw Karnataka manage no more than just 67 runs for the loss of Pawan's wicket -- the youngster played into Rohan Gavaskar's hands, flicking a low full toss down the leg-side to a diving Laxmi Ratan Shukla at mid-wicket. "It wasn't a negative tactics, really. The idea was to stop the run-flow since getting wickets through our pacers was getting difficult, and it worked. The second session is when batting sides score the most runs at Eden. And we succeeded to keep a check on the runs," Deep Dasgupta, the Bengal captain, explained.

Venkatesh Prasad, obviously, thought differently. "Bengal's negative line was very depressing. What will the players learn if teams try such policies? I personally had a chat with the umpires, but again, I am not complaining. It's over and got over it," he said.

But it was Raghu who won the battle within the war, patiently playing out the long, nagging phase unflinchingly, as Gavaskar and leg-spinner Manoj Tewari persisted with the negative line. "If we give them a 250-plus target, it will be interesting to see them chase," Raghu, who hung around for 294 minutes, said.

For Bengal, the much-awaited relief came when they took the new ball after tea. Bose and Sarkar struck right away, removing the dangerous Thilak Naidu (17) and Balachandra Akhil (0). But Raghu carried on running the show, safely seeing off the last session with skipper Goud. With the experienced Goud middling the ball well during his painstaking 96-minute stay, and young Raghu promising to do an encore tomorrow morning as well, Karnataka could well be heading for what Raghu called the magic 250-plus mark.

Dasgupta put on a brave face saying, "we still have the edge, we are still dictating terms. 317 for 5 looks big, but look at the lead, it's still within reach. At this point, we are on top, having allowed Karnataka to come back into the match a little". He, however, reckoned that things could get out of hand if his much talked about pace department fails to turn things around in the first hour's play tomorrow. Prasad would only be too happy to concur. "It's just the kind of comeback that we wanted after the first day's play. We knew it's a five-day game and we have clearly put the 89 all out behind us. The target now is to bat as long as possible, particularly in the morning session" he said.