Vasavada ton sets Karnataka a challenge
Karnataka 45 for 0 trail Saurashtra 469 (Vasavada 152*, Jackson 83) by 424 runs
Two batsmen who are still finding their feet at the first-class level have tormented Karnataka's bowlers so far in the quarter-final in Rajkot. On the first day, it was Sheldon Jackson who steadied Saurashtra after they lost their biggest gun Cheteshwar Pujara early. Today, it was the turn of Aarpit Vasavada, who made his second first-class century - not the most spectacular effort but a grinding one - that stretched Saurashtra's total to a healthy 469.
Saurashtra began the day on 272 for 5, and if Karnataka were looking for an early end to the innings, the bespectacled Vasavada denied them with a patient effort. On Sunday, one of the most common sights with Vasavada in the middle was him plunging a long way forward, keeping bat and pad close together as he studiously defended the bowling, holding the bat in position well after blocking the ball. He kept out plenty of deliveries today as well, scoring only 28 in the two-and-a-half hour morning session.
"The pitch is a bit slow so it's not easy to play strokes," Vasavada said after the day's play. "You have to wait for the balls in the zone to score runs. There are a few bowlers' marks and the rough made it hard."*
Vasavada has spent several years with the Saurashtra squad but only this year he has got an extended run. He has repaid the faith with three half-centuries and two hundreds in his last eight innings. He got to triple-figures with a punch past extra cover and savoured the moment by holding his hands aloft, before acknowledging the cheers of his team-mates in the dressing room.
The pitch had plenty of green on it, barely distinguishable from the rest of the turf but except for the odd ball that bounced extra from the spinners, had little to encourage the bowlers. Both No. 6 Chirag Jani and No. 7 Kamlesh Makvana made 30s to put on significant partnerships with Vasavada. Jani had a let-off on 34 when he was put down by Amit Verma at long-off, but the very next ball he holed out to deep backward square leg. Slow progress continued after tea as well, and it wasn't till more than halfway through the final session that Karnataka managed to wrap up the innings.
Still Vasavada felt Saurashtra should have got more. "500+ score ideal but I hope this is enough," he said. "It's turning but it's not unplayable. You can score runs if you have some patience but if the bowler can bowl at all the right spots, it will do a bit. It's a sporting wicket."
Karnataka's batting has been inconsistent all season, and what had been a settled line-up for several years has had plenty of changes over the past two months. Opener KB Pawan Kumar has been dropped, Ganesh Satish, who was captain in some games last season, has had to sit out several matches, and left-hand batsman Amit Verma has also been left out for two games. The only specialist batsman to have played all matches this season is their most well-known name, Robin Uthappa.
He and KL Rahul played out the final hour before stumps, taking Karnataka to 45 for 0 without needing to take too many risks. That partnership would have lasted only one ball if Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, who hit the headlines in his debut match last week against Maharashtra, had held on to a catch from Rahul at square leg off the first delivery of the innings.
One of the problems for Karnataka's batsmen for much of the league phase was the lack of big hundreds from their specialist batsmen. It was only in the previous couple of rounds that the centuries have arrived in number; before that both Uthappa and Pandey had scored four fifties each without going on to centuries. They will need more than that if Karnataka are to match Saurashtra in the first innings.
*7 Jan 2012, 17.00 GMT This story has been updated to include Aarpit Vasavada's quotes
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo