Merai's maiden ton gives Gujarat lead
Gujarat 373 for 6 (Merai 121*, Parthiv 83) lead Karnataka 306 (Satish 75*, Dhurv 4-83) by 67 runs
A maiden first-class hundred from Bhargav Merai and useful contributions from Akshar Patel and Rakesh Dhurv ensured that Gujarat first established and then consolidated their first-innings lead over Karnataka at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. At the end of the day, Gujarat were 373 for 6 with a lead of 67.
The little hopes that Karnataka had of forcing a result in this match were snuffed out after bad light and rain ate up most of the second session, leading to be play being called off at 3.15pm. Karnataka had prepared a green track at home to give themselves the best chance of a win but the situation is looking increasingly bleak for the side. On Saturday, against Gujarat's unhurried and steadfast batting style, they didn't have too many answers, even opting to bring in Kunal Kapoor and Mayank Agarwal to bowl shortly after lunch.
By then, Gujarat had already taken a substantial lead. Karnataka's best chance of getting a toehold in the match was in the first session, but they didn't trouble the overnight pair of Akshar and Merai too much. Akshar gave glimpses of his potential as an allrounder, scoring early fours off Abhimanyu Mithun and S Arvind. The pair quickly checked off a list of milestones - fifty-run partnership; Gujarat's 250 and Merai's second first-class half-century - as they got closer to Karnataka's 306.
KP Appanna got the breakthrough, bowling Akshar for 39, but that didn't have too much of an impact on Gujarat, who were only 34 runs behind at that stage. Dhurv came in and settled down with a couple of early fours and then watched Merai meticulously compile his hundred.
Karnataka's first real chance came immediately after lunch when Dhurv poked at an Arvind delivery when he was on 24. Karnataka wicketkeeper CM Gautam lunged to his left and caught the ball but couldn't hold on. Substitute fielder R Samarth couldn't hold on to another Dhurv chance off Kapoor's bowling and the seventh-wicket pair added 101.
Merai, who reached the landmark shortly after lunch, said that the experience gained from batting on a green top in the first match against a Vidarbha attack that also included India pacer Umesh Yadav, had helped in Bangalore.
"That match gave us the experience of playing in such conditions and we knew what we had to do here. In that game, a few middle-order batsmen had got out playing strokes, so here the plan was to play close to the body." Merai said. "We are prepared and we have enough belief that we can play in whatever conditions we are faced with."
Merai also praised Akshar for the latter's strokeplay on the third morning. "He batted very well in the morning. He made it very easy for the team, and especially for me, and I was just trying to turn as much of the strike to him."
Karnataka's opening batsman, KL Rahul, praised the Gujarat batsmen but rued the couple of dropped chances. "You can't take anything away from their batsmen. They were very gritty, they didn't throw their wickets away, specially Bhargav," Rahul said. "The wicket's not an easy one to bat on and maybe we could have bowled tighter. The rain didn't help and we will have to come up with a different plan tomorrow."
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo