Half-centuries from three Karnataka batsmen helped extend their lead beyond 300 on the third day of the Irani Cup. With the pitch beginning to offer considerable turn and bounce, the chase, whenever it begins, will present Rest of India quite a challenge.
Two wickets in two overs gave RoI a bit of respite in the final session - Karun Nair lbw trying to sweep an arm ball from Pragyan Ojha and Shreyas Gopal strangled down the leg side off Rishi Dhawan - and they could have had two more in the next two.
In the 81st over, RoI had an appeal for a catch at silly point turned down off Manish Pandey only for replays to show he had edged Ojha into his front pad. In the next over, Vinay poked outside off and nicked Dhawan low to second slip's left but the tumbling Unmukt Chand couldn't hold on.
Pandey and Vinay, on 50 and 6 when they had their respective lives, went to stumps on 73 and 28.
The day began with Karnataka 39 for 0, and the openers extended their stand to 54 before Varun Aaron broke through in the third over of the morning. He banged it in short and Mayank Agarwal, hurried into a hook, could only glove the ball to first slip.
Karnataka sent in the debutant Abhishek Reddy at No. 3, ahead of Robin Uthappa who had kept wicket through the RoI innings. Reddy took full toll whenever the seamers veered into his pads, and had put on 51 with R Samarth before he was lbw to Ojha, playing back and across the line to a ball that kept going with the angle.
Three overs later, Uthappa chopped a fullish ball from Aaron onto his stumps, his feet glued to the spot and his bat coming down from the direction of gully. Karnataka's lead was only 101 and RoI sensed an opening. It was at this point that Karun walked in and played the decisive innings of the day, and potentially the match.
Six and a half overs remained before lunch, and Nair ran to 23 off 23 balls in that time, striking four boundaries that stated their intent loudly, including two in one Ojha over.
The momentum remained firmly with Karnataka after lunch, Samarth taking Dhawan for two fours in the second over after the interval. The RoI seamers switched ends, and Shardul Thakur began an impressive spell, testing Samarth with swing from a fullish length as well as the occasional bouncer. Having curled two balls away from the batsman, producing a play-and-miss and a streaky four through gully, he swerved the next ball in and bowled Samarth, who was stuck in his crease and playing across the line, for 81 off 159 balls.
With a new batsman at the crease, Aaron came back into the attack, from around the wicket. In his first over he smacked Pandey on the elbow with a bouncer that didn't climb as much as expected, and the Karnataka physio ran on to the field. The blow didn't shake Pandey too badly, and in the next over he ramped another bouncer, from Thakur, over the slips for four.
Soon, spin was on from both ends, providing Nair the platform to show off his footwork. He drove Ojha inside-out with the turn and Jayant Yadav, twice in one over, against the turn, and in between leaned back to steer Ojha wide of short third man. Manoj Tiwary brought himself on to bowl an over of seam-up before the tea interval and Nair drilled him through extra cover as well. In all, 36 runs came in the last five overs before tea. Once again, Nair had broken Rest of India's rhythm just when they had looked like finding some.