Stuart Binny steers Karnataka out of trouble
Karnataka 300 for 7 (Binny 86*, Chipli 51, Imtiyaz 3-73) v Uttar Pradesh
First-class cricket returned to Shimoga after 32 years, and Stuart Binny marked the occasion with his second rescue job in as many games. His unbeaten 86 airlifted Karnataka from 171 for 6, after their top order fell apart in relatively easy batting conditions. Binny, aided by Sunil Raju, steered them to 300 for 7, leaving the game even after a see-saw day.
According to insiders the benign nature of the pitch was one of the reasons the JNNCE Stadium was awarded only a final-round fixture that was inconsequential to Karnataka's prospects. That Karnataka were already through to the quarter-finals did not diminish the enthusiasm of the 2000-strong crowd that turned up - most of them for their first-ever stadium experience. In contrast the opening day of Karnataka's previous fixture, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, had about 50 spectators. Shimoga's carnival atmosphere was created by people of all age groups - from college students unmindful of semester exams the next day to office-goers who had taken a day off from work. Their enthusiasm reiterated the message that first-class cricket in India will get more support in smaller centres that aren't overdosed on international matches and IPL fixtures.
Needing an outright win to stay in contention, Uttar Pradesh boldly chose to bowl on a flat pitch. Their new-ball bowlers stuck to disciplined lines, choosing to wait for errors from the batsmen. Their approach suited Robin Uthappa, who drove and flicked RP Singh's full lengths for boundaries in the opening over. A steer through backward point and a flowing cover drive off Bhuvneshwar Kumar portended a day of toil for UP, but their patience was about to pay off.
RP Singh struck Uthappa's pads to win a debatable lbw verdict, and the batsman shrieked in frustration as he trudged back. KB Pawan blossomed with a couple of fluent drives for boundaries, forcing UP to pull their lengths back, and they were rewarded soon. Bhuvneshwar had Ganesh Satish slashing a short-of-length delivery, and Suresh Raina held on to a sharp tumbling catch in the slips.
Bharat Chipli began with two loose wafts outside off, and carried on in the same vein to make a half-century, but his colleagues weren't as lucky. Pawan wasted his start with another loose steer into the slips - a mode of dismissal that soon became an epidemic. Just as UP's day was looking up, they were dealt a crippling blow before lunch, when RP Singh injured his left ankle while running in to bowl. He played no further part in the day's play, but an X-ray revealed nothing serious, and the team management expected him to take the field on day two.
Piyush Chawla's predictable lengths - over-pitched legbreaks, and googlies pitched short - allowed Chipli and Amit Verma to score boundaries after lunch. The first 11 overs of the session yielded 41 runs, before part-time offspinner Arish Alam struck against the run of play. Verma went back to cut a length ball, and edged to second slip where Raina took another smart catch. Chipli eased past 50 to celebratory beats from a fan who had arrived with a drum set, but Imtiyaz's determination was about to quell some of the cheer. Chipli exited while presenting the slips with more catching practice, CM Gautam was pinned in front, and within five overs, Karnataka had gone from 157 for 3 to 172 for 6.
Binny's defiance began with edgy pushes into the off side, and gave way to sparkling stroke-play against a tiring bowling unit. His first stroke of confidence came against Chawla, whom he laced through the covers to take the score past 200 before tea. Meanwhile, Raju buckled down unnoticed.
Binny was a different batsman after the break, carving Chawla over wide long-off for six, and Raju also punished the errant Chawla with a square-driven four. The home crowd began to shout, "Come on Stuart, concentrate!". Binny responded by slog-sweeping Parvinder Singh into the make-shift media-box. He reached his 50 off the next ball.
The stand was worth 100 when Raju edged Imtiyaz behind in the 80th over. Local boy SL Akshay was steady against the second new ball, while Binny unfurled a bunch of straight hits to finish the day with a flourish. In the final hour a local youngster strayed past the security cordon to share some thoughts with Raina in the middle of the field. Barring that breach of protocol, the people of Shimoga acquitted themselves well.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo