Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey shore up Karnataka
Karnataka 265 for 6 (Uthappa 91, Pandey 76*, Joshi 13*) trail Punjab 300 (Bhalla 70, Kaul 68, Joshi 4-62, Vinay Kumar 3-100) by 35 runs
Two innocuous deliveries threatened to change the course of the game but Manish Pandey held firm with a charming, yet responsible, innings to take Karnataka towards a vital first-innings lead. Robin Uthappa, who had led Karnataka's reply with a fine 91, drove a harmless delivery back to the bowler Rahul Sharma and Rahul Dravid got a fatal inside-edge on an attempted cut and at 170 for 4, things looked slightly wobbly for Karnataka.
However, Pandey cushioned the blows with his assured strokeplay to leave the game interestingly poised on the second day. A small lead might not turn out to be a matter of life and death in the end as there might be still be an outright result possible in this game but tomorrow's morning should see an interesting tussle.
It was fascinating to see how Pandey responded to the fall of wickets. When Dravid fell, he counterattacked with three fours from four balls - a late cut, an on-drive and a swing over midwicket - against legspinner Sharma, and when C Gautam fell with Karnataka sliding to 217 for 6, he again dealt in a flurry of boundaries. He lifted Manpreet Gony and Taruwar Kohli to the midwicket boundary before collecting two more boundaries with cover and straight drives against Kohli.
It wasn't all dashing bravado though, as Pandey punctuated his aggression with compact defensive nudges and pushes. His occasional tendency to go for the runs like his Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate Kevin Pietersen seemed to really tease the dressing room nerves as he ran after pushing straight to fielders. Towards the end of the day, he quietened down in the company of Sunil Joshi in an unbroken 48-run stand as Karnataka steadily moved towards securing a lead.
Until Pandey turned on his show, and just before Punjab tried to force their way with a quick flurry of wickets, it was all Uthappa. It wasn't the usual flair of Uthappa that impressed today, but he showed a calm demeanor during the responsible innings, till he was done in by exuberance.
He hasn't had a great season so far, but he started well today - looking to play in the V and concentrated on getting his timing right. He was beaten a few times on the forward defensive stroke but unfurled a few pretty off drives, a flamboyant cover drive on a bent knee against Love Ablish and a couple of dashing punchy cuts. He brought up his fifty with a neat straight on-the-up drive against Harmeet Singh before suddenly exploding against the spin of Sharma. He slog swept the legspinner for a six and a four and lifted him to the long-off boundary when he suddenly hit a flighted delivery straight back to the bowler.
Dravid, who had looked as steady as ever during his knock of 36, followed Uthappa soon after when he dragged a short-of-length delivery from Ablish back to the stumps and it was this point that Punjab had their best moments with the ball. Gony removed Amit Verma with a delivery in the corridor and Kohli picked his maiden first-class wicket when he induced Gautam to edge an intended off drive and things looked promising for the visitors but Pandey thwarted them with a defiant knock.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo