Uttar Pradesh 221 for 9 dec (Parvinder 92) and 55 for 1 (Srivastava 23*, Murtaza 2*) require another 278 runs against Karnataka 349 (Uthappa 100, Nair 100, Gautam 100, Mishra 6-106) and 204 (Rahul 92, Murtaza 6-64)
KL Rahul stood at the corner of the crease briefly. Head down. After a minute he started to walk towards the dressing room. Uttar Pradesh were celebrating the final Karnataka wicket after HS Sharath offered no stroke against left-arm spinner Ali Murtaza, and was declared lbw.
Rahul was not aghast at umpire Amiesh Saheba's decision. He was surprised at how Karnataka's lower order had decided to take charge when he, a specialist batsman, was on the cusp of a century.
On the ball before Sharath got out, Abhimanyu Mithun had attempted a slog sweep but missed the line completely and was bowled. Mithun knew Sharath was injured and was not going to bowl and had been wearing a sling after hurting his right shoulder in the field on Thursday afternoon. It was important then that he be more resolute. Mithun banged the bat into the ground and then on to his pads, cursing his mistake.
Rahul later admitted he was disappointed by Mithun's response and had asked the fast bowler atone for his mistake by taking at least six or seven wickets. But it was not exactly Mithun's fault alone. A combination of disciplined lines from Murtaza, a steadily wearing pitch with some uneven bounce and impatience from some of the specialist batsmen put the match in balance.
UP had declared on the overnight score but the danger of the new ball in the first hour was still alive. It was Murtaza who got one wicket in each of his first two overs that created early dents. After Robin Uthappa was trapped lbw on the sixth delivery of the morning by Ankit Rajpoot, Murtaza had Vinay Kumar leg before on his fourth ball, and in the following over induced an edge off Abrar Kazi which was caught well by wicketkeeper Eklavya Dwivedi.
The experiment to push two lower-order batsmen up, Rahul revealed, was to counter the new ball, but they embarrassingly fell to a slow bowler.
For the second time in the match Karnataka were 15 or 3. Manish Pandey did not last long as Amit Mishra came in for his second spell. Pandey has gained popularity for being a second-innings player but today he went for a pre-meditated pull and was surprised by Mishra's pace and bounce. The ball lobbed into the hands of Murtaza at mid-off.
Although the pair of Karun Nair and CM Gautam showed grit initially, they could not show the resolve that was on display during their centuries in the first innings. Trying to push a leg-side delivery from Rajpoot, Nair played into the hands of Mukul Dagar at midwicket.
Gautam showed a little impatience in dealing with Piyush Chawla, who had finally started to flight the ball more and keep the batsmen in check. Gautam stepped out against one such delivery, but only succeeded in hitting it towards short leg. Unfortunately for him, Dagar stretched his right leg to intercept the ball which ricocheted back to Dwivedi, who quickly knocked off the bails to run Gautam out.
Rahul had remained unperturbed at the other end. Having taken a single off his third ball today, he did not score for the next 31 deliveries before punching Rajpoot to the cover boundary and then pulling him for another four. That pattern continued throughout his innings when Rahul would stay quiet for small periods and then make use of the poor lengths or lines.
One of his best strokes came against Rajpoot late in the final session when he leaned in to a slightly fuller delivery on the off stump to drive it through covers for four to get into the 80s. Rajpoot had tested Rahul's patience in every spell with an off-stump line.
Unfortunately for Rahul, he was stranded on 92 as Murtaza quickly wrapped up the tail.
"The 90s seem like it doesn't like me too much. Hopefully we can win this game and I get another opportunity to get a big score," Rahul said in jest.