Bowlers put Karnataka in control
Punjab 292 for 9 (Kaul 68, Bhalla 62*, Harmeet 11*, Joshi 4-62) v Karnataka
About ten minutes into the morning's play, the theme for the day had become visible and about six hours later, you were left a bit surprised that Karnataka didn't have to veer away from Plan A. They set out to test the batsmen with short deliveries on a pitch that had bounce and barring some spirited resistance from Uday Kaul in the middle order and Vishwas Bhalla lower down, Punjab surrendered without much fight. The only moments that Karnataka were forced to rethink came when Bhalla was batting with the tail. However, they persisted with short deliveries and Bhalla pushed Punjab towards 300 with the help of some brave swings to the on side.
However, for the main part, the simple plan to bowl short proved very effective and it left you wondering about the quality of batting in the domestic circuit. The pitch was hard and bouncy but there was no alarming movement - but it was enough to trouble Punjab, who should be, in actuality, used to playing on a bouncy track back home.
The first session saw several pointers to the day's play. The Punjab physio came out twice to treat bruised fingers and sore thighs, the ball was hardly driven past the bowler, the slip cordon was always crowded, the short leg was ever present and Karnataka, it seemed, were never far away from taking a wicket.
Abhimanyu Mithun deployed what is known as a 'heavy ball' in cricketing terminology and Vinay Kumar extracted bounce from short of length as the Punjab top order did not seem to learn from their mistakes. They hung out the bat away from the body, fended ungainly and didn't attack or defend with confidence. Weak-hearted attempts at the pull and uncertain leaves were the feature of the day and though the runs kept coming at a handy rate, the wickets too were always around the corner.
Sunny Sohal was troubled by bounce, Ravi Inder Singh and Mayank Sidhana collected a few boundaries with slashes and punchy drives but never looked in, and all three fell in the opening session without much fight. Sohal and Inder Singh fended away bouncers from Mithun to gully and short leg respectively and Mayank, after pushed back with short deliveries, flicked Vinay Kumar straight to square leg.
The second session too wasn't too different. The bounce wasn't as much as with the new ball in the morning but it was enough to extract more mistakes. Taruwar Kohli and Pankaj Dharmani stabbed short-of-length deliveries to an alert Manish Pandey at second slip and Uday Kaul fell, edging an intended off drive against Sunil Joshi at the stroke of tea.
Until then, Kaul had stood out as a complete contrast to his team-mates. He was resolute in defense, the feet didn't back away from the stumps in anticipation of short deliveries, and the judgment of his offstump was impeccable. He cut and flicked Joshi for boundaries, on drove the seamers when they rarely bowled a full length and dealt mainly in singles with his nudges and pushes.
Karnataka continued to make inroads after tea, courtesy Joshi, who was heading towards a cheap five-wicket haul. However, Punjab showed some spine at the end of the day. They were helped by the seamers, who seemed have fallen in love with the idea of bowling short, even though they were tired and unable to get the ball to lift to uncomfortable heights. The short balls, devoid of pace and potency, kept coming and Bhalla, who was dropped on zero by Robin Uthappa off Vinay Kumar and later on 25 by S Aravind who spilled a sharp return catch, looted some quick runs with pull shots to move past his fifty.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo