Pandey and Satish trouble Mumbai, again
There was an element of déjà vu to this contest. Two seasons ago, in one of the most exciting Ranji Trophy finals, chasing 338 runs for victory on treacherous green pitch in Mysore, Karnataka had nearly pulled the rug under Mumbai's feet before falling short by six runs. Karnataka's charge was led by a 209-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Manish Pandey and Ganesh Satish. In front of a baying home crowd, against hostile bowling, the pair had shown the right character, grit, spirit and imagination to take the bull by the horns, but couldn't take them past the finish line.
Remarkably, today, it was the same pair that inflicted damage on Mumbai in the first match between the teams after that game. Pandey and Satish added 182 for the third wicket, recovering from early setbacks and helping Karnataka end the day in a dominant position.
Karnataka won the toss and opted to bat on a track different from the one used in the Mumbai-Rajasthan game last week. Its character, though, was the same: slow, offering innocuous bounce with little turn unless the bowler bent his back. Yet KB Pawan, one half of the visitors' opening pair, went into a cocoon straightaway.
Robin Uthappa was playing his shots fluently, proving there were no demons in the pitch. After 80 excruciating minutes, Pawan left, edging an away seamer from Dhawal Kulkarni that was caught safely at second slip by Rohit Sharma. Until the 77th delivery of the game, only Uthappa had scored runs for Karnataka before Satish picked up a single. Disappointingly for Mumbai the new-ball pair of Ajit Agarkar and Kulkarni failed to dominate with the new batsman at crease. Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer even shelled an easy catch at second slip from Satish when the batsman was on 15, depriving Abhishek Nayar of a wicket.
Uthappa, by now, was dictating terms. With a lofted drive over mid-on against Kulkarni, he went past his previous best of 41 against Mumbai to move five short of a half-century. Then, on 49, facing Nayar, a part-time medium pace bowler, Uthappa walked across a delivery that was going down the leg side and tried to flick it hard only to get a thick edge. Onkar Gurav moved swiftly to his left, then threw himself to complete a spectacular catch that no TV or media photographers were present to record.
The wicket brought together Pandey and Satish. Their contrasting batting styles made it easier for the pair to complement each other and simultaneously ensured it was difficult for the bowlers to set plans to attack them. Pandey's was a dynamic unbeaten century; Satish started off vigilantly before opening up toward the latter half of his innings.
Pandey initially countered Nayar smartly when he was offered tempting fuller but wider deliveries outside the off stump. Though patient, he never let go any scoring opportunities. He was severe on Iqbal Abdulla, who gave him enough time and space to play his shots. At lunch, he had raced past Satish - 42 against 20 - but had to be wary. In the first round against Rajasthan he hit 58, including eight fours and two sixes. He then failed against Railways last week with just four runs in a game Karnataka won comfortably. The challenge today was to build on the starts. The presence of Satish at the other end proved crucial. Satish may lack a silken touch to his shot-making, but he knew which balls needed to be left alone and where the gaps were. Pandey only prospered due to his partner's patience.
Pandey, who topped the aggregates in 2009-10 season, resumed confidently, clipping an easy four between short midwicket and mid-on. He then stepped out against Ramesh Powar to push a cover drive for four, which got him to his second half-century of the season. When Kulkarni bowled a short delivery on the off stump, Pandey collected a powerfully-driven four.
Pandey nearly hit a straight six off Abdulla after lunch but the resultant four got him three runs within reach of his first century of the season; it also turned out to be his second ton against Mumbai and eighth overall. Suffering from cramps, Pandey retreated to the dressing room.
The onus was on Satish to maintain the tempo established by Pandey and he did so with gusto. Short balls were either pulled or slapped in front of square and yet he never played with any undue haste. By the end, Satish would have faced 141 dot balls and run 20 runs in singles and fourteen in twos. It only showed his perseverance. Unfortunately, 17 runs short of his century, Satish mistimed a pull against Chavan to square leg and slumped to his knees in disbelief at his mistake.
Though Mumbai grabbed two more wickets in the space of nine deliveries for ten runs, Vinay Kumar and Amit Verma did not allow Mumbai to wrest control and were involved in an undefeated 48-run stand for the sixth wicket. With Pandey ready to walk in tomorrow, and declaring that Karnataka could target a score of at least 450 in the first innings, Mumbai's troubles are far from over.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo