Pandey ton keeps game open
Karnataka 396 (Pandey 177, Uthappa 60) trail Saurashtra 469 by 73 runs
If the quarter-final had been a league game, we would have been set for a dull fourth and final day with Saurashtra looking to bat out time. Instead, the additional day in the knock-outs has led both captains to call the game "still open" though Saurashta have gained a 73-run first-innings advantage, thanks again to their spinners who have taken the majority of the wickets for them this season.
Karnataka's Manish Pandey finally broke his century drought with a stylish, attacking hundred, but when you are looking to overhaul 469 you need more than one batsman to score big. Both openers Robin Uthappa and KL Rahul promised much, but neither could go on to really hurt Saurashtra.
Uthappa made his ninth score above 40 this Ranji season, but is still searching for his second hundred of the campaign. He began with three crisply off-driven boundaries in one Chirag Jani over and Saurashtra looked to tie him down by getting the spinners to bowl at his pads and keeping three men close in on the leg-side. He avoided that trap and confidently progressed to 60 off 65 deliveries before he gloved a Jaidev Unadkat delivery that kicked up from a length to the keeper.
Rahul had been subdued when Uthappa was finding the rope, but he too showed off some of his shots after the first wicket. His initial few boundaries came mainly on the off side, but he also played several sweeps off the spinners to move to his half-century. He gave it away soon after, though, as he chipped a pitched-up delivery to mid-on. He knew it was a bad mistake, shaking his head much of the way to the dressing room.
The season's highest run-getter CM Gautam, who has been Karnataka's rock this season, was promoted to No. 4, ahead of Pandey. He couldn't repeat the heroics of recent months though, and was out lbw for 4 after missing a sweep. Karnataka were 154 for 4 in the first session and looking at a massive deficit.
Pandey changed that though. Even with the wickets tumbling, and men crowding the bat, he didn't rein in his shots. There were plenty of drives past mid-off and just before lunch he muscled a six over long-on. His attacking mindset was highlighted by his running between the wickets as he pushed his partners for the extra run - one of his late cuts even fetched him a rare all-run four.
The one serious moment of trouble early in his innings came when he was on 24, bowler Kamlesh Makvana seemed to have palmed the ball onto the stumps and the third umpire was needed to decide whether he was back in his crease. The other genuine chance came only when he was in his 130s, when a loft to long-off was pouched by the fielder Aarpit Vasavada, who stepped over the rope as he completed the catch.
There were supporting cameos from Amit Verma and Abhimanyu Mithun to help Pandey prevent Karnataka from slipping to a hopeless situation. The trio of spinners -Makvana, Dharmendrasingh Jadeja and Vishal Joshi - didn't get any sharp turn from the wicket, but bowled accurately to beat the bat several times, prompting plenty of appeals either for caught-behind or bat-pad. Verma, who has struggled for form this time, survived an over with four appeals from Jadeja. After some initial patience, he whacked Jadeja for a six and a four over midwicket before nicking a catch to the keeper in the same over.
That 80-run stand had still just helped Karnataka avoid the follow-on, and their only specialist batsman remaining was Pandey. K Gowtham perished to the first of two athletic low catches at long-on, but Mithun proved more difficult to dislodge. He was initially content to work the ball off his pads towards fine leg but showed his growing confidence by punching Undakat down the ground for four. With the partnership swelling to 80 despite umpteen appeals - Jadeja had his heads on his head in frustration plenty of times in the final session - and Saurashtra's lead dwindling to double-digits, there was an outside chance of Karnataka taking the first-innings honours.
Jadeja, who played a starring role in his debut game last week to help Saurashtra qualify, delivered again late in the day, first trapping Mithun lbw and then knocking over KP Appanna's off stump. With the last man in, Pandey had to go for his shots and he holed out to Unadkat at long-on, to spark joyous celebrations from the Saurashtra camp. The odd ball is bouncing unpredictably and the pitch is expected to wear significantly over the next two days, which means Saurashtra still have work to do to book their semi-final spot.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo