Karnataka stumble after Pandey hundred
Karnataka 298 for 6 (Pandey 104, Uthappa 59, Nair 58) v Vidarbha
Manish Pandey's 16th first-class hundred underpinned Karnataka's batting dominance before a brace of late strikes from left-arm seamer Ravi Thakur helped Vidarbha gain a slight edge on the opening day. Karnataka would need their lower order to rally around CM Gautam for them to post a big total on the second day, after they lost their sixth wicket off the penultimate ball of the day. Shreyas Gopal played a forceful cut off offspinner Akshay Wakhare, but it was caught smartly by a diving Faiz Fazal at short gully.
At 266 for 3, with Pandey and Karun Nair having added 148 runs, the defending champions were strongly placed to push for their second consecutive 500-plus total. But Thakur struck with the last ball of his second over in his return spell by trapping Nair lbw. Then, in the first ball of his next over, he snuck one past Pandey's attempted drive to find the stumps.
Up to that point, it had largely been a struggle for Vidarbha after their captain S Badrinath elected to field. They had sensed an opening after Robin Uthappa was dismissed lbw by Shrikanth Wagh, but Pandey and Nair had thwarted such notions by finding the middle ground between being overly aggressive and retreating into a shell. To make matters worse for Vidarbha, Badrinath hurt himself after leaping up to catch Pandey's lofted on drive. While he could only get his fingertips to the ball, he landed heavily on his knee and had to be escorted off the field, and Wasim Jaffer stood in as captain.
Pandey, in the meanwhile, had begun to accumulate his runs with a combination of late dabs and forceful drives on either side. Nair, on the other hand, got his striking fix by carting Wakhare down the ground. The Vidarbha attack, too, had an anodyne sameness to it, with an endless dose of seam bowling being administered; it wasn't until the 29th over that spin was introduced.
As Pandey and Nair got to their fifties, and the ball became softer, they whipped it around and collected singles and twos before unleashing a sudden explosion of big shots.
In the morning, Karnataka had started cautiously, even a touch nervously, with the opening bowlers, particularly Swapnil Bandiwar, getting the ball to bounce from just short of a length. Openers Uthappa and KL Rahul were denied much width - Karnataka opened their account only at the end of the third over - and had to remain content watching the ball ping into the wicketkeeper's gloves.
Rahul, returning from a quadriceps injury and looking to gain some match practice ahead of the South Africa Test series, even survived a close lbw shout in the second over when Bandiwar rapped him on the back leg. It was Uthappa who first turned on the ignition switch by driving Bandiwar on either side of the wicket for a pair of sweetly-timed boundaries.
Rahul seemed uncomfortable every time he was bounced, getting into awkward positions while attempting the pull. It was to one such stroke he eventually perished to, off medium-pacer Fazal's bowling, as the 49-run opening partnership came to an end. R Samarth fell just before lunch after he scooped up a drive straight to Badrinath at mid-off. Uthappa looked good for more than his 58 before Wagh cut his innings short a little while after lunch.
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo