Karnataka rally after Kaif masterclass
Karnataka 158 for 2 (Satish 70*, Verma 46*) and 314 lead Uttar Pradesh 419 (Kaif 152, Amir Khan 67, Bhuvneshwar 56, Raju 3-43, Aiyappa 3-92) by 53 runs
Mohammad Kaif's masterclass continued into the third morning in Shimoga, propelling Uttar Pradesh to a dominant lead before Karnataka fought back to move towards parity by stumps. Nothing short of an outright win will put UP in the quarter-finals, but Karnataka captain Ganesh Satish's half-century in the second innings makes a draw the most likely result. Satish's shepherding effort was well supported by Amit Verma, who was on 46. Their chalk-and-cheese association yielded an unbroken 91 and quelled UP's ascendancy after Kaif's imposing 152.
The seeds for UP's strong start to the day were sown in the first hour of play. Kaif's defiance in that passage ensured UP's lower order didn't flounder like Karnataka's had on the second day, before they gradually accelerated. SL Akshay and Stuart Binny began the day's proceedings with a still new ball, ahead of the spearhead NC Aiyappa. Kaif stonewalled efficiently for five overs before driving Binny down the ground for a four. Aiyappa duly replaced Binny and the breakthrough came immediately, when Bhuvneshwar Kumar lost patience and jabbed at a wide ball. Karnataka sensed a quick finish and probed away with intent. No. 9 Amir Khan edged and missed frequently as Aiyappa bowled his best spell of the match, but Kaif was unshakeable.
It took a couple of edged boundaries from Amir to take UP past 300 in the 12th over of the day, after having started the day only 24 short of the mark. Kaif celebrated by lacing Aiyappa through mid-off - the first shot of authority against him - and lofting KP Appanna in his first over for four. UP took the lead in the next over, and shifted gears rapidly.
Kaif offered an opening when he mishit a carve over extra cover, but the substitute fielder Krishnappa Gautham reacted late. Kaif made Karnataka pay with a bunch of late cuts, assured steers and smooth drives. The confidence wore off on Amir, who slugged Appanna for a six over midwicket, before plundering Amit Verma for boundaries. The 100-run stand came in just 80 minutes, off 118 balls, before Kaif edged Sunil Raju to slip. Karnataka wrapped up the innings within five overs of Kaif's departure, highlighting just how effectively he had stalled them.
Karnataka were hampered at the outset of their reply, with Robin Uthappa unable to open after sitting out for a considerable chunk of UP's innings with a thigh strain. The make-shift opener Bharat Chipli couldn't make a dent, edging RP Singh into the cordon in the third over. Karnataka wisely chose caution thereafter, with both RP Singh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar hitting the right lengths on this pitch. The shackles loosened only when the more benign Imtiyaz Ahmed came on at first change for the 12th over. Ganesh Satish welcomed him with a brace of straight boundaries, and KB Pawan square-drove him for four more. Piyush Chawla replaced RP Singh in the next over, and UP's intensity evaporated on the back of his poor control, as he struggled to bowl a consistent length.
The next breach came against the run of play. Pawan, who had punched the previous ball to the point boundary, edged a repeat of the shot into the slips, with Karnataka still 33 in arrears. UP tried hard for more breakthroughs when Karnataka were still behind, but Amit Verma responded in kind, pasting Chawla for straight boundaries in the lead-up to tea. The visitors edged ahead in the sixth over of the evening, and Satish reached his half-century by shredding Chawla through point. Verma looted two more fours in the same over as, like UP earlier in the day, Karnataka accelerated after wiping out the deficit.
Suresh Raina, the UP captain, said the final day would be a "real test of character and fitness" for his side. "There are 90 overs to go, and we need those eight wickets quickly," Raina told ESPNcricinfo. "We will know how it is going to end after the first session. We need our bowlers to take responsibility. I am confident about RP [Singh], Bhuvan [Bhuvaneshwar Kumar] and Imtiyaz Ahmed standing up, but a bit worried about Piyush Chawla since he couldn't maintain pressure today. But he has experience, and will surely bounce back."
Raina was satisfied with his side's performance so far in the season, but rued the home defeat to Railways - a game he missed due to international duty - that has put them in a must-win situation now. "Still, I hope that doesn't cost us a quarter-final spot," he said.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo