Punjab v Karnataka, Ranji Trophy, semifinals, Mohali, 3rd day January 20, 2014

Nair hundred puts Karnataka in charge

Karnataka 351 for 5 (Nair 107*, Verma 65*, Pandey 65) lead Punjab 270 (Jiwanjot 74, Vinay 5-27, Shreyas 3-92) by 81 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

On Sunday evening, Punjab's trio of quicks had the ball swerving around and handcuffed Karnataka's usually adventurous batsmen. They struggled to pose similar threat on Monday, as Karnataka took charge of the game, leaving Punjab needing something special to progress to the final.

Karun Nair's breakthrough season became even more luminous with his third successive century to lead a day of substantial partnerships. Not once did Punjab strike twice quickly as Karnataka put on stands on 71, 64, 83 and an unbroken 110, again showcasing the team effort that has underlined their run to the semifinals.

The day began with Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey, Karnataka's two senior-most batsmen, needing to lay the platform for a lengthy batting line-up to build on. Barely 10 minutes after the start, the 24-over-old ball was replaced as one side was frayed and the replacement ball didn't jag around as much. The pair played the pace bowlers confidently on a pitch that had few demons in it, and after the first few overs they started to reel off boundaries.

It was the spin of Harbhajan Singh that caused them problems. Harbhajan nearly had Uthappa dismissed in his first full over of the day, but the umpire failed to spot that a catch to short leg came off the glove. much to the bowler's chagrin. Harbhajan didn't have to wait long though, as in the first ball of the next over he trapped Uthappa lbw.

There were other decisions which went against Punjab as well, and they cost the team plenty. Pandey was lbw off Harbhajan on 48 but lived on, and a struggling Amit Verma was clearly lbw on 6 but wasn't given. All three decisions were made by umpire Subrat Das, who seems to be a batsman's umpire, having turned down two certain lbws when Karnataka were bowling yesterday.

Pandey played a few loose shots, but with a stylish innings he blunted Punjab's bowling in the morning session. He kicked off a run-spree with an audacious front-foot pull, and despite losing Uthappa, Karnataka were well on top as the session drew to a close. In the final over before the break, though, Punjab were back in it as Pandey tickled a Sandeep Sharma delivery to the keeper.

At 158 for 4, it was still even but CM Gautam put Karnataka back on top with a typically enterprising innings. Nair was more cautious, but Gautam again showed off how good he is on the sweep - both conventional and reverse - to tackle Harbhajan. As the shots flowed, he scored at nearly a run-a-ball to eat into Punjab's lead. By the time he was dismissed by Harbhajan for a 54-ball 48, Karnataka were only 29 behind.

Nair could have been run-out on 1 itself, just getting home before the stumps were broken. He was also troubled by a short ball from Jaskaran Singh, but he showcased a solid defensive technique and cleverly picked off boundaries at the vacant third-man region. When Gautam was scoring freely, he too joined in, as Punjab had to turn to weak links like Taruwar Kohli's medium-pace.

The only sustained period of pressure came when Verma, playing his first game of the season, looked like a walking wicket early on, beaten plenty of times as he staggered to 6 off 59 deliveries - including an outside edge for four to third man. The arrival of the new ball though changed his approach, as he stroked five boundaries in eight balls and began to looked far more composed.

Nair cashed in as Punjab's back-up bowlers posed little threat and towards the end of the day, after Karnataka had taken the lead and the home side seemed to be going through the motions. The partnership between Nair and Verma swelled past a hundred, and Punjab rarely looked like taking a wicket as their final chances began fading.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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