Chawla takes UP closer to quarter-final spot
Karnataka 511 (Akhil 135, Uthappa 65, Raghu 64, Chawla 3-141) drew with Uttar Pradesh 567 (Srivastava 159, Kaif 112, Chawla 96, Aiyappa 3-108)
While all about him were losing their heads, and their wickets, Piyush Chawla kept his, to score a crucial 96 and take Uttar Pradesh a step closer to the quarter-finals. Coming in just before lunch, with UP still 143 short of Karnataka's 511, he strung together a partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, then saw two wickets fall to let Karnataka back in. UP were 55 behind when No. 10 Amir Khan came out but the two batted sensibly for the much-needed three points in this, their last league game.
UP now have 17 points, three ahead of third-placed Karnataka and six ahead of Railways, who need a win with a bonus point in their last match - away to table-toppers Tamil Nadu - to deny UP a place in the last eight.
While the good news for UP came from Ratnagiri, where Maharashtra denied Railways an outright win, it wouldn't have counted for much had their batsmen not delivered in Bangalore.
If they do make it to the quarters, UP will owe a lot to Chawla, given that the middle and lower-middle order failed to build on the 247-run partnership between Tanmay Srivastava and Mohammad Kaif. Their early dismissals, without adding much to their overnight centuries, slowed down the scoring - UP managed nine runs in the first 45 minutes and lost both set batsmen - put the middle order under pressure. Parvinder Singh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar got a partnership going, with Parvinder the surer of the two. However, just before lunch Parvinder played with hard hands at one from Balachander Akhil that stopped a touch. While NC Aiyappa accounted for Srivastava, Akhil removed Kaif.
Karnataka's tactics of drying up the runs looked to be working in the first session: 83 runs were scored in 35 overs for the loss of three wickets. But Chawla, though batting at No. 7, played as well as any batsman in this contest, and manipulated the field to keep picking up singles and twos, while hitting the odd shock boundary. Bhuvneshwar, who made a circumspect start - his high bat swing coming from point causing him troubles - didn't throw away the start either.
Bhuvneshwar, who started off as a No. 10 batsman, has scored important 20s and 30s for UP this season, but is usually criticised for his slow batting and failure to make big scores. He insists he is better than that, and he got a special applause from his team-mates when he reached 50 at a time when they most needed it.
The sixth-wicket partnership had added 60 runs in quick time, and Karnataka were looking short of inspiration when Vinay Kumar struck in the first over of his afternoon spell. He beat Bhuvneshwar's high back lift with an in-coming delivery, and started the big turnaround. Praveen came in, went for a big hit first ball, and holed out to mid-off.
RP took guard to face the hat-trick ball, and not only did he survive, but calmed the UP nerves with a patient 30-run partnership with Chawla. Before madness struck again.
Vinay Kumar was in the middle of an inspired spell - the third over before tea - when RP got a tickle down the leg side for four. Perhaps that gave him confidence, but the result was another catch - to midwicket this time. Vinay Kumar was rejuvenated, as were Karnataka, and Chawla stood helplessly at non-striker's end, on 49.
Amir Khan, the wicketkeeper who started his career as an opener, but now bats in the tail, was just the man UP needed. Earlier in the season, he had scored an unbeaten 7 in close to two hours to save the match against Baroda. He came out with the same intent today. Every ball he defended was met with a huge cheer from the UP dressing room.
At the other end, Chawla trusted his partner enough to not farm the strike, and backed his own ability enough to keep going for the boundaries as well. He hit Sunil Joshi for a straight six, smartly late-cut Sunil Raju for a four, and kept flicking the pace bowlers over midwicket for boundaries - he hit 12 in all.
The pitch was still flat, the field was back on to the defensive, and all UP had to avoid was silliness and panic. None of that came through, as the batsmen were prepared to play out maiden overs before picking the right delivery to hit. Karnataka brought on offspinner Raju, the only bowler to have got any purchase from the wicket but had not been used all day, with 16 runs still required.
The one moment of indiscretion came when Chawla stepped out to hit him over the top, but didn't connect properly. And the ball eluded Aiyappa running in from mid-off. Chawla put his head down again, only to release all the tension three overs later.
With a six over mid-off, off Raju, Chawla took UP beyond 511 and his own score past his previous-best of 82. He celebrated it with a six off the next ball. He then late-cut the next ball for four to move into his 90s.
Despite the match having entered the mandatory overs, UP decided to let him go on for a maiden century, but Karnataka spread the field and didn't let it come easy.
Frustrated, he holed out off Uthappa, but UP decided to let Amir go for his half-century - he needed 20 then. Even Amir missed the landmark by three, but the two will know they did the best they could to get more shots at landmarks this season.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo