Baroda take slender lead on wicket-filled day
Baroda 133 for 8 (Pinal Shah 72*, Joshi 4-46) lead Karnataka 107 (Vahora 5-34) by 26 runs
On a pitch that took sharp turn right from the first delivery bowled by a spinner, it was fast bowler Murtuja Vahora who turned it on for Baroda, taking his maiden five-wicket haul en route to skittling last year's finalists Karnataka for 107. Sunil Joshi ensured that Karnataka almost split the day's honours, but captain Pinal Shah's fighting knock took Baroda to a slender lead, which might prove handy in a game that is not expected to last the full four days.
The day began on a benign note, with not much carry for Vahora and left-arm seamer Sankalp Vohra, and there was no sign that 18 wickets were going to fall. The first wicket that fell was not on account of the pitch acting up either, but a continuation of KB Pawan's poor form. He slashed at a short and wide delivery in Vohra's first over, and the edge was brilliantly snapped up by Swapnil Singh, who leaped to his left at gully to take it almost horizontal to the ground.
Vahora was bowling an excellent line at the other end, keeping it in the corridor on a good length, and he soon got rewards, removing Sunil Raju's off stump with a ball that kept a shade low, and then getting Manish Pandey playing across to one that nipped back to trap him leg-before. Vahora was now pumped up and really steaming in with purpose. Amit Verma, Karnataka's highest run-scorer this season, came in and was immediately greeted with a steepler around off stump that just beat the outside edge. The next delivery was fuller, lured the batsman forward, and Pinal gleefully took the regulation nick.
Having opted to bat, 8 for 4 was not the scoreline Karnataka were hoping for, and the introduction of spin in the 14th over only worsened their plight. Left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt, the top wicket-taker in the Super League, got his first ball to turn right across Robin Uthappa's blade. Uthappa, who had batted largely without issue till then, managed to edge the next one, which almost carried to slip. The third one got big on Uthappa who edged again, and Karnataka were now 24 for 5.
Not for the first time this season, CM Gautam and Stuart Binny were left to perform a salvage job. Both showed that runs could be made with some positive intent. Vohra changed ends, but Binny thrashed him through extra cover, and then glided one delicately past gully. Gautam danced down the pitch and eased a flighted Bhatt delivery through extra cover.
The two had added 42 at just under four an over, which was to be the highest stand of the day, when Pinal brought Vahora back, and he responded by removing both batsmen with full deliveries. Bhatt mopped up the tail, and Karnataka found themselves bowling shortly after lunch.
Baroda's start was less dramatic, but things soon started to unravel. Connor Williams fished outside off stump to a length ball from Vinay Kumar, and Gautam made no mistake behind the stumps. By now, the pitch had started to prey on the minds of the batsmen, and it showed in the next three dismissals, all off Joshi. Kedar Devdhar stayed back to a flighted delivery that straightened to be caught in front. Swapnil poked tentatively at a turning ball to be caught behind and Jaykishan Kolsawala, who had looked pretty assured, went back and turned one straight in to the hands of forward short leg. The batsmen were expecting landmines; there weren't any, although there were several firecrackers.
One of those got Karnataka the big wicket of Ambati Rayudu. An Abhimanyu Mithun delivery took off from back of a length, and hit him high on the bat as he looked to play inside the line, and the edge swirled in the air for Pawan to take a simple chance at point. Karnataka's 107 had suddenly assumed larger proportions when viewed from Baroda's position of 44 for 5.
Pinal has acquired a knack of getting runs when his side is under pressure, and he didn't disappoint today. The Baroda captain showed the way to bat on this pitch, as he took on the spinners, repeatedly slog-sweeping them to the midwicket boundary. Karnataka didn't help matters by dropping him early, as a back-foot punch off Mithun went just over mid-off's hands. Baroda's 100 and Pinal's half-century both came off slog sweeps, with the latter stroke also taking them past Karnataka's total. He even brought out the reverse sweep a couple of times. Deliveries that took off from a length were played as late as possible off the back foot, and kept down with soft hands.
Though Karnataka continued to strike at the other end, Pinal stood firm, and how long he manages to carry on tomorrow could well determine the course of this game.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo