Punjab in control against wounded Karnataka
Punjab 357 and 119 for 3 (Sidanha 57*) lead Karnataka 281 (Binny 119, Gautam 62) by 195 runs
On a gloomy day at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Punjab became the first team to take the first-innings lead against Karnataka this season. Mayank Sidhana's second half-century of the match, and bad light that ended play more than an hour early made a draw the likeliest result as Punjab ended the day nearly 200 ahead with only three wickets down.
The odds on the draw were even shorter than the scoreline suggested, as Karnataka lost two of their frontline bowlers to injury - S Aravind struggling with a knee problem, and Stuart Binny having hamstring trouble after completing his second century of the season. Robin Uthappa came into the match as a batsman, but had a surreal day in which he first shared the new ball and then took over as wicketkeeper after the specialist gloveman CM Gautam went off with a bruised foot.
Karnataka began the day with only a slim chance of overhauling Punjab's first innings total, but with overnight pair of Binny and Gautam starting with a bunch of boundaries, the chase was on. Gautam reached his fifty with a cut behind point and Binny moved into the 90s with a six over long-on. Left-arm spinner Rajwinder Singh snapped the stand with Karnataka still 139 behind, getting Gautam lbw with a delivery that stayed low.
Binny reached his hundred with a sharp run to point - raising both hands in celebration even as he began the single - but Punjab hit back with the second new ball. Fast bowler Harmeet Singh struck three times, including the wicket of Binny for 119, as Karnataka lost their final four wickets for nine runs, to give Punjab a crucial 76-run lead. If this game ends in a draw, as seems probable, Punjab will get three points which will be vital in a tight race for the third and final qualifying spot - four teams are currently separated by one point.
Like Karnataka, Punjab's top order made a wobbly start. Karnataka's only fit quick bowler, NC Aiyappa - playing his first match in three years - bowled Ravi Inder Singh for 2, before Sarul Kanwar was run out and Karan Goel chipped a catch to mid-off leaving Punjab at 32 for 3.
If Karnataka briefly had hopes of a glorious turnaround, they were crushed by Sidhana's attacking innings. A flurry of driven fours from Sidhana took him to 50 off 73 deliveries, as he dominated in an 87-run stand with Uday Kaul. Kaul was more subdued, surviving several loud appeals for lbw.
Barring some major drama on the final day, Karnataka will end up being second best in a Ranji match for the first time this season. But with qualification more or less guaranteed, it won't affect them as much as the news that they will be without their main fast bowler, Aravind, for four weeks.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo