Karnataka lose seven but stretch lead
Karnataka 474 for 7 (Rahul 131, Satish 117, Fallah 3-74) lead Maharashtra 305 by 169 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Seven wickets for 244 in a full day's play, in batter-friendly conditions, is usually great going for a fielding side. Day three, by that count, belonged to Maharashtra. Until you remind them that Karnataka had begun at 230 for no loss in response to Maharashtra's 305, and until you remind them that they had missed opportunities on day two to make it 5 for 1, 28 for 1, 32 for 1, 172 for 1 and 179 for 1.
"We only have ourselves to blame," left-arm seamer Samad Fallah said, having kept Maharashtra in the game with three wickets on Friday. "But we still have to be positive. There are 180 overs left. We will look to get the last three wickets as soon as possible tomorrow morning, and continue playing positively. We did it against Mumbai."
Against Mumbai, in the quarterfinals, Maharashtra overturned a 122-run first-innings deficit and won by eight wickets. Against Karnataka, in the final, they have already given up a 169-run lead, and still have three wickets to get. They will first have to dislodge either Shreyas Gopal - whose defensive technique late in the day suggested that batting, rather than legspin, is his primary skill - or Vinay Kumar - who has already scored a century this season.
The pitch at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, moreover, has nothing like the pace or bounce that was on offer at the Wankhede during Maharashtra's quarterfinal. There, it was possible for batsmen to score quickly and for fast bowlers to run through a line-up. This pitch, though, is of the diametrically opposite kind, according to Robin Uthappa, who returned to the crease after the fall of Karnataka's first wicket to score a breezy 72.
"It's a wicket not just [difficult] to get runs on but also difficult to get wickets on," he said. "So it's that kind of a wicket, where you really need to work hard. We're the team who got 240 runs after 90 overs and we had to play big shots to get these runs. It didn't come easily."
It didn't. Certainly not for KL Rahul, who scored his third century of the season and became only the second Karnataka batsman to score 1000 runs in a Ranji Trophy season. Uthappa revealed that Rahul, who was sitting by his side at the end-of-day press conference, had been running a temperature when he began his innings on day two.
"I asked him if he was okay and he said his eyes were watering up when the bowler was running in but he dealt with those situations very well," Uthappa said. "It takes a lot of strength to do that when you're not feeling well."
Karnataka lost Ganesh Satish in the first over of Friday morning, bowled by a Chirag Khurana offbreak that kept a little low. Rahul was on 94 at that point. He reached his century four overs later, stretching out to sweep Khurana in front of square for four.
Soon after, he stepped down the track to launch left-arm spinner Akshay Darekar into the stands behind long-off. The next ball, inevitably, was short; Rahul rocked back and cut it fiercely for four. At the other end, Uthappa was equally severe on the spinners, smacking them for two sixes and a four down the ground. The last of these shots, off Darekar, came in the 80th over of Karnataka's innings.
Rahul and Uthappa had cashed in on the period before the second new ball became available. They, along with Satish, had also dented Darekar's confidence. Karnataka's top three hit him for 80 runs off 102 balls, on a pitch that offered the spinners turn, even if it was on the slow side. At the end of day three, Darekar, Maharashtra's lead spinner, had bowled 12.2 overs less than Khurana, the batting allrounder.
Maharashtra came close to striking as soon as they took the second new ball, with Uthappa edging Anupam Sanklecha between first and second slip. The ball flew close enough to Kedar Jadhav, at first, to count as another missed chance.
The second wicket, and Maharashtra's first safely completed catch, finally came in the 94th over, when Rahul slashed at Shrikant Mundhe and edged to keeper Rohit Motwani. Soon after lunch, substitute fielder Rahul Tripathi held another, catching Uthappa low at point, off a short and wide ball from Mundhe that should have gone for four.
Manish Pandey and Karun Nair added 35, before Fallah struck two quick blows. First, he swung one in to Pandey with the ball moving in the direction of the shine, to trap him in front. Then, he got one to hold up in the pitch and took a simple return catch from CM Gautam.
From that point on, the runs came at a drip. Karun Nair, who looked compact in defence and strong square of the wicket against spin, made a 118-ball 44 before he was given out caught behind off Khurana, attempting a reverse sweep. It was hard to tell from replays whether he had hit the ball or not, though.
Four overs of spin later, Fallah returned for his third spell of the day, over the wicket to the left-handed Amit Verma, who was on 29 from 100 balls. Fallah's second ball, reversing from outside off, hit his front pad just about in line with off stump.
With the day drawing to a close, Fallah changed his angle of attack to try and hustle out another wicket. He didn't quite succeed, even if he seemed to be a little affronted when he had an anguished shout for LBW against Vinay turned down. The third new ball will be available after two overs on Saturday morning. It could represent the last chance for Fallah and Maharashtra to keep Karnataka's lead to under 200.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor in ESPNcricinfo