Karnataka drift towards semi-finals
As it stands now, Karnataka appear to be heading towards booking a spot in the final four
Punjab 300 and 165 for 1 (Sohal 85*, Sidhana 37*) lead Karnataka 378 (Pandey 115, Vinay 51*) by 87 runs
The game started to drift after Manish Pandey and Vinay Kumar helped Karnataka gain a 78-run lead and it began to meander further nowhere as Punjab curiously preferred to jog along at a comfortable pace rather than push for a big score and look at declaring tomorrow. As it stands now, Karnataka appear to be heading towards booking a spot in the final four.
That cricketing cliché of this being "a glorious game of uncertainties" will be invoked in some quarters no doubt but Punjab could have taken out some uncertainties if they had shown more intent in the afternoon. Karnataka certainly could have helped their own cause had their fielding been better. They had dropped five catches on the first day, which helped Punjab to recover from 215 for 8, and today they reprieved Sunny Sohal twice - on 51 and 62 - and missed a stumping chance of Mayank Sidhana, who was on 29 then.
The contest might have appeared to be heading downhill in the evening but there was no shortage of excitement during the morning. Sunil Joshi ran himself out early, failing to ground his bat in time, but Pandey unfurled several peachy shots to push Karnataka past the tipping point. To say that he oozed intent would be an understatement; he cover-drove the first ball of the day, from Manpreet Gony, to the boundary and off-drove Gony to distraction but the highlight was a curious little bottom-hand-powered swat pull over mid-on against the same bowler. It only went for two runs but Pandey's reaction was revealing.
Where one might have expected self-admonishment, there was a suggestion to himself that
he could have played the shot better and collected a boundary. There was more impishness in store, for when Love Ablish dragged out an appeal for lbw, Pandey responded by lifting the next delivery to long-on. Further boundaries were collected in the over with drives either side of the pitch.
"They were there to be hit," said Pandey matter-of-factly. "I am not going to let any boundary-scoring opportunity go." Oh well.
Pandey fell just after Karnataka crossed Punjab's first-innings total but Vinay Kumar chose to hit his maiden first-class fifty in style. Vinay is your representative domestic cricketer - a man full of heart, and one who gives his best in whatever he does. Yet somehow, it seems, he is resigned to anonymity. Today he played a fine hand to give Karnataka full control of the game.
Vinay played several proper cricketing shots that would make a top-order batsman proud, the highlight being a crunchy pull shot against Taruwar Kohli. He cut and drove well but what caught the eye was his deft handling of the inevitable short-ball barrage hurled at him. Vinay had served up quite a few in Punjab's first innings and got his fair share in return, but he showed good attacking and defensive skill in handling the bouncers. He remained unbeaten on 51.
It was at this point that the Punjab started to dawdle. They needed an outright victory to prevent their campaign from derailing but they chose, rather inexplicably, to crawl post lunch. They scored only 73 runs in 31 overs in the second session. It said much about their lack of purpose, and though Sohal tried to make amends in the final session, he was forced to take more risks.
Punjab now have to take a high-risk approach tomorrow morning if they are to stop this game from becoming a one-way street for Karnataka. Pandey summed up best when he said: "Initially the first three overs [before lunch] Sohal played a few shots and we were wondering whether they were going to test us but later they just started to defend and the game just went …"
Karnataka won't be complaining, because it it Punjab who have to do all the running from here on.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo