Karnataka 36 for 3 (Gurbani 2-9) trail Vidarbha 185 (Sarwate 47, Jaffer 39, Mithun 5-45) by 149 runs
A rip-roaring day of fast bowling threw open a multitude of possibilities as the Ranji Trophy semi-final between Karnataka and Vidarbha opened with a 13-wicket day at Eden Gardens. Abhimanyu Mithun scythed through Vidarbha with his third five-for of the season that sent them hurtling to 185 all out. But Vidarbha hit back with their new-ball pair of Rajneesh Gurbani and Umesh Yadav to snuff out three Karnataka batsmen in a highly shortened and engrossing final session.
As has often been the case with him this season, Mithun grew increasingly menacing as the day wore on, and his numbers proved that. In three spells over the day, Mithun recorded 5-3-18-0, 7-3-15-2, and 4-0-12-3. Having clinically wiped out the opposition in two sessions, Karnataka looked set to establish early dominance. But in what has been a rare occurrence this season, their top order came in for a stern scrutiny.
Though surviving Umesh's early burst would have been on top of Karnataka's priority - and he was kept quiet for the most part - it was the 24-year old Gurbani who shook them. Accurate lines and lengths, prodigious movement - in the air and off the deck - and skiddy pace characterised a delightful spell of fast bowling. Running in with the confidence earned through five-wicket hauls in successive matches, Gurbani made up for the lapses of Umesh, who bowled at serious pace but was rendered ineffective through leg-sidish lines and inconsistent lengths.
A brute of an outswinger in Gurbani's third over had R Samarth nicking off to the keeper. In the next over, Umesh had Mayank Agarwal, the season's best batsman, beaten by pace with a straighter one that pinged his pad. One over later, Gurbani pegged back Dega Nischal's middle stump and Karnataka were 21 for 3. Karun Nair and CM Gautam saw off the remaining overs amid dropping light. The day's final drinks break, at 4.20pm, also brought out the light meters. Five minutes later, play ended with Karnataka trailing by 149 runs.
Factoring into the success of the pacers was a pitch that had considerably quickened after the early-morning dew had dissipated. It allowed Mithun to be at his most dangerous in the post-lunch session. In his first over after the break, Mithun had Ganesh Satish thrusting forward and finding an inside edge that was snaffled brilliantly by a diving, one-handed CM Gautam behind the stumps. Apoorv Wankhade was bowled five balls later, and when Wasim Jaffer fished outside the off stump against S Aravind to be caught at second slip, Vidarbha had lost three wickets for 14 runs after lunch.
The effectiveness of Karnataka's medium-pacers did not necessitate their spinners to come in until the 50th over. As they did in the quarter-final against Kerala, Vidarbha's lower order rallied, with Akshay Wakhare and Aditya Sarwate deftly knocking the ball around during a 41-run seventh-wicket stand.
Against a much stronger Karnataka side, though, it required a more sustained period of resistance. But Mithun returned and struck thrice in the space of four balls. First, there was Wakhare who poked at one that cut away off the deck. Then, Gurbani was bowled off a legcutter that pitched on middle and took out off. Mithun came tantlisingly close to finding Umesh's outside edge as he pushed expansively on the hat-trick delivery. But when he repeated the same stroke next ball, it resulted in a thick outside edge to first slip.
At nine down, Karnataka's pacers were close to accounting for all 10 wickets in an innings for the first time in three seasons. But a loopy legbreak from Shreyas Gopal closed out that possibility as Sarwate's fighting 47 ended with an uppish drive straight into the hands of cover.
The day's first session was the most productive passage for batsmen. Despite the abundant sprinkling of grass, Vidarbha chose to bat instead of unleashing their pacers at the Karnataka top order. Sanjay Ramaswamy crunched a text-book drive through the covers for the morning's first boundary, but soon both he and the ever-compact Faiz Fazal displayed uncharacteristic tendencies. Though usually circumspect to begin with, Fazal fished at deliveries outside off.
With spongy bounce and the ball occasionally stopping on the batsmen, Vidarbha's batsmen struggled for fluency. Looking tentative, Fazal did not come entirely forward to an inswinger from Vinay Kumar and was trapped lbw for the first breakthrough of the morning.
Aravind, who replaced Mithun 11 overs into the day, found substantial seam movement and beat the batsmen's edges. That turned out to be a frequent occurrence through the morning, Aravind at one point doing it thrice in a row. Stuart Binny then dismissed Ramaswamy, who, playing for the line, failed to see that the ball had cut back off the seam and beat his inside edge to hit his pad.
Karnataka then briefly eased the pressure, partly due to bad luck and partly to their own undoing. Satish sent an outside edge to first slip that fell short of Nair and then managed an edged four between third slip and gully. A rare sequence of half-volleys and short balls thereafter gave Vidarbha some pressure-easing boundaries.
Vinay, who had swung the ball throughout, was then denied a wicket twice. First, Aravind put down Satish at first slip on 14. Later, Jaffer was held brilliantly by third slip diving to his right but the batsman seemed confident that it hadn't been a catch despite Karnataka's early celebrations. With Agarwal, too, not confident, the on-field umpires let Jaffer bat on.