Manish Pandey, Dhawal Kulkarni set up exciting final
Manish Pandey's extraordinary catch in the morning is likely to become a Youtube classic but it was Dhawal Kulkarni's humdrum batting that had more impact on the third day at the Gangothri Glades. Kulkarni more than tripled his previous best of 28 to leave Karnataka needing to pull off the biggest-ever chase in Ranji finals to get a seventh title.
Wasim Jaffer's captaincy record of never losing a Ranji game looked safe when Ajit Agarkar nabbed three cheap wickets early in the chase, but an unbeaten half-century from Pandey kept the home side's hopes of a Sankranti miracle alive.
It has already been a fantastic season for Pandey, only 12 short of becoming the tournament's leading run-scorer, but the toughest test of his fledgling career came when he walked out after another Robin Uthappa failure left Karnataka at 46 for 3. The team was still nearly 300 short, and had only one more specialist batsman to come.
Pandey had been dismissed for a golden duck in the first innings and the initial target of getting off a pair was achieved with a tuck to square leg off his first ball. The Karnataka batsmen had gone into a shell when the wickets started to tumble in the first innings, and his partner G Satish suffered the experience, being stuck on 16 for 29 deliveries. Pandey, though, exuded an aggressive mindset from the start, and galloped to 21 off 13 with three boundaries in four Aavishkar Salvi deliveries.
The cover drives kept flowing from Pandey, even when the ball was wide outside off, and with Satish also getting a move on, the pair put on Karnataka's first 50-partnership of the match. The game would have essentially been killed off when Pandey was on 44, but wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant grassed a regulation catch.
Mumbai are still favourites for yet another title, though, thanks to Agarkar joining in the fast bowlers' party in Mysore. He sent down a couple of unplayable legcutters in the first over of the chase, but it was a short and wide ball that fetched him the wicket of CM Gautam. KB Pawan played his second good-looking cameo before being trapped lbw, and Uthappa nicked an away-going delivery from Agarkar to end a forgettable season personally.
In the morning, on a pitch that was still chicken soup for the fast bowler's soul, Kulkarni and Abhishek Nayar endured a fraught forty minutes against R Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun. On the last ball of the 44th over, the eighth of the day, Kulkarni mistimed a drive that nearly lobbed back to the bowler Mithun. In the next over, Nayar slashed one just wide of gully and four deliveries later was squared up by a short ball but the edge fell just short of second slip. Six balls after that, Kulkarni was reprieved by Pandey at gully. Both batsmen soon completed half-centuries and had pulled through 11 overs against Karnataka's main threats. Mumbai looked set to bat the home side out of the game.
Pandey then sparked Karnataka back to life with a blinder that was reminiscent of James Kirtley's effort against India at Lord's in 2002. Nayar swatted Sunil Joshi towards long-on, where Pandey sprinted to his right and flung himself into a full-length dive. He was still airborne when he clutched the ball with his outstretched right hand, and amazingly managed to hang on to it when he landed. The entire Karnataka team rushed to mob him, and Nayar started to walk off but was told by the Mumbai dressing-room to demand for the third umpire's ruling on whether the catch was clean. After many replays, the umpires were satisfied and Nayar finally trudged off.
Agarkar lasted all of four deliveries, and Iqbal Abdulla crunched a couple of boundaries before being done in by Vinay for 12. After those three quick wickets, it seemed Karnataka would be batting soon but, as usual, Mumbai found someone to resist.
This time it was the pair of Kulkarni and Ramesh Powar. It was a freakish innings from Kulkarni, scoring almost all his runs on the off side - off his 17 boundaries, only the final one was on the leg-side, a swipe to square leg off Joshi. A resolute forward defence was mixed in with the free-swing at deliveries outside off. With the third seamer S Aravind proving ineffective and Joshi not threatening, Kulkarni helped himself to some easy runs against the old ball. Powar was happiest against the spinner, pulling and cutting him when he dropped short.
The partnership grew to 63 and only the new ball could separate them. Vinay's outswing cut Kulkarni's game-turning innings 13 short of a century, and Mithun's bouncer proved too much for last man Salvi.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo