Rajasthan batsmen turn in a solid performance
Rajasthan 266 for 4 (Bist 62*, Jhalani 60*, Sharma 68) v Karnataka
The idyllic Gangothri Glades in Mysore provided a fitting environment for Rajasthan to put up their first accomplished batting performance of the season. It began, after Rajasthan won the toss, with a meaningful start from Manish Sharma and Vineet Saxena and ended with Robin Bist and Rohit Jhalani consolidating after a post-lunch blip to reach 266 for 4. There was assistance from the pitch early on but Karnataka were lacklustre, and will regret not extracting more out of a helpful surface which is expected to offer turn as the match progresses.
Each of Rajasthan's batting failures this season - 85 and 249; 105 and 303; 172 and 188 - came about because the top order has failed against quick bowling. Today, on a quick outfield, Rajasthan took the first step towards getting themselves back on track. With in-form veteran Gagan Khoda ruled out, Rajasthan handed Sharma his debut as opener. Sharma and Saxena played refreshingly positive cricket, which Rajasthan have lacked thus far, and confident punches and pushes punctuated the first hour's play.
Watchful yet positive, Saxena opened up with a deft on-drive and then, when offered width, knelt down and drove to the backward-point boundary. There was one loose shot, an aerial push to mid-off, but otherwise Saxena was solid in the first session.
Sharma needed medical attention after NC Aiyappa struck him in the midriff but once he got back on his feet, Sharma cut the next two deliveries hard through point. Rajasthan's 50 came up in the 14th over when Saxena's edge found the gap at gully.
Sunil Joshi, the veteran left-arm spinner, succeeded in slowing down the rate for about 40 minutes but lacked bite early on. The openers played the spinners watchfully; the first sweep didn't come out till 25 minutes before lunch but soon they came in succession as Sharma and Saxena picked up the pace ahead of the interval.
Sharma hooked Vinay Kumar, Karnataka's opening bowler, for four to bring up his fifty and the team's 100 and followed up with a genuine French-cut. Kumar brought fine leg squarer and bowled another short ball which Sharma hooked for four more. The pitch stayed true through the first session but Karnataka's medium-pacers couldn't find the right length. They operated between full and too short and Saxena rode the bounce while Sharma relied on wrist and power.
Eight minutes before lunch Joshi brought the sizable crowd to its feet by trapping Sharma, who had walked across his stumps, for 68 off 86 balls and ending a 120-run partnership with Saxena.
Karnataka must have enjoyed whatever they ate during the break, because they got stuck in soon after. Joshi got Nikhil Doru to play onto his stumps and Aiyappa had Saxena edging to Robin Uthappa at gully for a 157-ball 42. C Raghu, who some feel is under bowled, came on for brief spell, when Rajesh Bishnoi and Bist played aggressively, and struck gold with his third ball. Bishnoi danced down, collected the ball on the full, but only found Sudhindra Shinde at deep midwicket.
That was the last bit of success Karnataka had as Bist and Jhalani pulled out their A-game. Sticking to the basics, the two saw off the immediate threat from Joshi and grew in confidence once settled. There were two reprieves for Bist, first as short leg failed to cling on to a simple catch and then as wicketkeeper Thilak Naidu grassed a chance to his right. Vijay Bhardwaj, his coach, happened to be behind him on the boundary rope and glared sternly.
By tea Rajasthan had regrouped to 202 for 4 and in the final session Bist and Jhalani improved on their work. If Joshi or KP Appanna erred even fractionally in length Bist rocked back and found the gaps. His fifty came up off 106 balls in 148 minutes and at other end second slip dropped Jhalani off Joshi. Some close shouts for leg before followed and even the new-ball didn't work as Karnataka failed to separate these two as they added 107.
The buzz around the ground before this match was that Karnataka would have it easy against Rajasthan but the underdogs have shown plenty of fight to rebut such notions. A platform has been laid and now it needs following-up.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo