Bawne stars, neither team in clear ascendence
Maharashtra 272 for 5 (Bawne 89*, Khurana 64) v Karnataka
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Twice, in the 45th over of the day, Chirag Khurana shuffled a big distance across his stumps, and Shreyas Gopal's legbreak spun an even bigger distance in the same direction. The first ball squirted off the outside edge for two, the second ran off the back pad for four. Turn, on the first day of a five-day match. The first day of the Ranji Trophy final.
And yet, Karnataka's bowling attack contained only one specialist spinner. At the end of day one, they had extracted 11 overs from Gopal and 11 from part-time spinners Karun Nair, Amit Verma and Ganesh Satish. Sreenath Aravind sent down 18 overs of left-arm seam and five overs of left-arm spin.
It was Aravind's versatility that convinced Karnataka to play just one specialist spinner, but he looked neither threatening nor tight in his five overs of spin on Wednesday. Maharashtra's batsmen, for most part, handled all the Karnataka bowlers comfortably. Nothing disturbed Ankit Bawne's serenity as he ended the day unbeaten on 89.
And yet, as he walked off the field to an ovation from his team-mates and support staff, Maharashtra were 272 for 5. They hadn't made a bad start to their first final in 21 years, but they never once moved from a position of parity to one of strength. The partnerships for third, fourth and fifth wickets were worth 48, 54 and 71 respectively. Maharashtra may have considered themselves on top if one of them had crossed the 100-run mark. They might yet do so if their sixth-wicket pair of Bawne and Sangram Atitkar - who featured in the partnership that swung their semifinal against Bengal - extend theirs from 57 to a large three-digit number on the second day.
But a couple of wickets early on with the second new ball, currently six overs old, could put Karnataka right on top, particularly since not playing another frontline spinner has given them an extremely deep batting line-up.
None of the five wickets Maharashtra lost was the result of a particularly good ball or a particularly testing spell. Harshad Khadiwale, who had begun the day needing 20 runs to reach 1000 for the season, struck three sweetly timed fours before falling lbw to a full Vinay Kumar in-ducker. It was a good ball, but Khadiwale shouldn't have been stuck so deep in the crease.
Vijay Zol, India's Under-19 captain, looked completely out of sorts, and poked tentatively at everything in the channel. One such poke, off a short, rising delivery from Aravind, resulted in an edge to the keeper. This left Maharashtra 42 for 2.
It was a dicey situation for Kedar Jadhav to walk into, but the tournament's top run-getter settled Maharashtra's nerves with his clear-headed approach. He took their score to 50 by driving Aravind - bowling over the wicket - past mid-off for four, and whipping the next - from round the stumps - past mid-on.
Jadhav then hit Vinay for three successive fours: a square cut, a sweetly timed push between the bowler and mid-off, and a wristy on-drive between short midwicket and mid-on. He had moved to 37 when he was out caught behind down the leg side, off Abhimanyu Mithun. Maharashtra were 90 for 3, with three overs still to go for lunch.
It was here that Bawne walked in. His runs came at a leisurely pace at the start of his innings, with his first 23 balls containing only two scoring shots, but this didn't appear to bother him. Just like he did during his 89 against Bengal in the semifinals, he seemed to enjoy offering a limp cushion of a bat to good-length balls on a line close to off stump and ignoring those that were wider.
Bawne made only 17 out of a fourth-wicket stand of 54 with opener Chirag Khurana, but looked the more secure of the two throughout. Khurana had survived a chance even before Bawne had come in, Manish Pandey diving to his left from second slip to drop him on 14, and continued to look edgy, especially against the spinners, even as he neared 50.
The difference between Khurana and Bawne was starkest in their approach against spin. Where Bawne stretched out or stepped nimbly out of his crease to get to the pitch of anything remotely full, Khurana pushed at everything from the crease. It was a spinner who dismissed him, but Nair didn't have to do too much to earn his first first-class wicket beyond firing the ball full, too full for Khurana's attempted sweep.
Bawne took over the role of dominant partner in his 71-run stand with Rohit Motwani. He clipped Vinay neatly off his pads, and swept and pulled Nair for successive boundaries to move into the 30s. A drive to the left of cover, off Gopal, took him to 46 and one to his right, off occasional leggie Verma, to 50. At tea, Maharashtra were 195 for 4.
In the seventh over of the third session, the left-hand batsman Motwani played the first and last poor stroke of a dogged, 61-ball innings, wafting at Mithun outside off. It was to be Karnataka's last success of the day. Atitkar, who had made 168 in his previous innings, looked in tremendous touch, driving Mithun for successive fours early in his innings, and striking three more fours to end the day unbeaten on 29.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo