Powar takes five to put Mumbai on top
Karnataka 189 for 9 (Akhil 53*, Aiyappa 1*, Powar 5-69) v Mumbai
Mumbai's bowlers, led by Ramesh Powar, dominated the opening day of the Ranji season after Karnataka won an important toss and chose to bat on a turning wicket. Ajit Agarkar prised out the Karnataka openers cheaply before Powar removed Rahul Dravid, who led a mini recovery act. Powar then ran through the tail to leave Karnataka struggling at 189 for 9. B Akhil led a rearguard effort with a gritty unbeaten 119-ball 53, an innings whose importance will be known after Mumbai bat on this wearing track.
The first session featured some fine seam bowling from Agarkar, but Powar dominated the next two. He had delivered the sucker punch ten minutes before lunch when he removed Dravid with a flighted delivery that spun and bounced to produce an edge off a jab. Karnataka's defences had been breached and it would have been even worse had the short-leg fielder, Sahil Kukreja, held on to sharp chance offered by C Raghu in the same over.
Undaunted, Powar struck almost immediately after lunch. Slip, silly point, short leg and backward short leg watched in glee as Powar began to tease the batsmen with variations in flight and turn. In the fourth over he deceived Yere Goud with a lovely flighted delivery that dipped rapidly on the lunging batsman and spun to leave him desperately swishing in the air.
The runs came in a trickle in the post-lunch session - 58 runs in 34 overs - as the batsmen struggled to come to terms with the turning ball. Raghu, with a patient 138-ball 31, fought hard while Akhil showed rare glimpses of aggression as he drove and cut the spinners on a few occasions. Using his height, he stretched well forward to drive Powar and Iqbal Abdulla, the 17-year-old left-arm spinner making his Ranji debut. He even attempted a couple of reverse-sweeps against Powar as he began to run out of partners.
Abdulla got sharp bounce, with Vinayak Samant, the wicketkeeper, collecting some deliveries in front of his face. All indications were that Anil Kumble would have plenty to look forward to later in the game.
Powar certainly enjoyed the wicket. In the last session, he grabbed three wickets in four overs as the tail succumbed pushing and prodding. Sunil Joshi was struck on the pad while stretching forward, Kumble stabbed a turning delivery and Vinay Kumar jabbed at a floater.
The first hour of the day belonged to Agarkar, who kept the ball full, got late movement and strangled the batsman. Barring an elegant cover drive from Dravid, hardly any shot pierced the infield as Agarkar ended his first spell with figures of 8-3-9-2. He was on the job right from the start, teasing the outside edge with his second ball before striking two balls later when Barrington Rowland, on nought, lunged at a good-length delivery that shaped away.
That brought in Dravid, with another semi-crisis to tackle. The first ball was patted to the off side and he soon got off the mark with a dab to cover. Dravid played cautiously, constantly looking to get forward to kill the movement but the same could not be said of the other batsmen. KB Pawan, brought in for Robin Uthappa, was edgy throughout his 31-ball stay. He was caught at the crease, unsure of his off stump and was constantly pushing tentatively away from his body. Agarkar beat him repeatedly but what would have pleased Pravin Amre, Mumbai's coach, the most, was the effort from Rajesh Verma.
Verma was rewarded for his five-for ("a pleasant surprise" according to Amre) in the Irani Trophy with a place in the playing XI. He repaid that faith with a fine spell, bowling just marginally short of good length and cutting the ball both ways with a whippy action. He beat Pawan three times in his first over and continued to harass him subsequently.
Dravid was cautious against Verma and Agarkar but was beaten only three times: the first prompted an lbw appeal as Agarkar brought one in to rap him high on the pads; the second missed the outside edge as Verma cut it away; and the third, half an hour before the break, saw Dravid play a rare stroke away from the body off Agarkar. The rest met the middle of the bat as Dravid proceeded to settle the nerves in the dressing room.
Spin was introduced in the 17th over, and Dravid immediately hit Powar for successive fours, an elegant off drive followed by a cut against the turn, while Raghu, who grew in confidence as the innings progressed, dabbed the ball around in the gaps to rotate the strike.
The first signs of alarming spin came off the fifth ball of the 23rd over. Powar got it to turn sharply and bounce, forcing a surprised Dravid to hurriedly pull out of an intended cut. Soon Powar took over to have a stranglehold over Karnataka.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo