Karnataka 294 for 8 (Nair 148*, Gautam 73, Gurbani 5-90, Umesh 2-71) lead Vidarbha 185 (Sarwate 47, Mithun 5-45) by 109 runs
Rajneesh Gurbani extended his spectacular streak of performances with his third five-wicket haul in as many matches, but Karnataka took big strides towards the Ranji Trophy final on the back of a sublime Karun Nair century. As on the first evening, Gurbani continued to tantalise and provide Vidarbha with a glimmer of hope. But the unshakeable Nair established Karnataka’s ascendancy in the semi-final with an unbeaten 148 that thrust them into a 109-run lead on the second day at Eden Gardens.
It was a day of three installments as both sides continued to trade punches. Karnataka, however, finished the day like they had begun it – by dominating. Nair began the day doing exactly what Karnataka needed him to do: soothe their nerves after what had been a topsy-turvy opening day. He did that by taking his fourth-wicket stand with CM Gautam (73) to 139 runs, taking the team score past 150. By the end of the day, Nair was still standing between Vidarbha and a shot at their maiden final. But now, he was doing it in the company of the lower order, to the great frustration of their opponents.
By stumps, Nair had moved to his best score of the season and had batted out nearly 25 overs in the company of his captain Vinay Kumar. Only bad light, which ended play at 4.10pm – 15 minutes earlier than it did on the first day – could give Vidarbha respite from their misery.
There was nothing slick about Karnataka’s batting for the first half hour or so when outside edges either fell short of the slip cordon or found an escape between fielders. Two of the first three fours Karnataka struck on the day came courtesy edges. It prompted Vidarbha to take the second new ball only 21 balls into the day.
The heavy presence of early-morning moisture perhaps came to the aid of Karnataka as the ball came on slowly and edges didn’t carry. Equally, it impelled Karnataka to exercise caution, especially with the odd delivery climbing unexpectedly onto the batsmen.
Vidarbha then found various ways to concede the advantage they had gained on the first day. Umesh Yadav was particularly disappointing as he hardly probed the batsmen. Fuller offerings on the pads of Nair allowed him to warm up with a brace of boundaries. Umesh ended his first spell with 4-0-16-0 and Karnataka collected 52 runs in the first 11 overs of the day.
By the time the sun came out fully, the pitch had eased out considerably. A straight-driven four off Faiz Fazal, the Vidarbha captain, gave Gautam his fifty; Nair brought up his shortly thereafter, with a neat tuck off the hips through square leg, and followed it up with a paddle sweep to the fine-leg boundary.
The sweep became an oft-employed method to counter Vidarbha’s spinners: Nair, compact as ever, playing his favoured shot, and Gautam slightly less so. And then, in a single moment of indiscretion, Gautam undid all of his good work over the morning, slashing Umesh to deep point off what turned out to be the last ball of the session.
Gurbani’s brilliance made for the story of the post-lunch passage. It began antithetically as Nair pulled him over deep backward square leg for six. But in his next over, Gurbani produced a scorching away-drifter that found the outside edge of Stuart Binny, who was forced to play at it.
Gurbani regularly found movement off the surface and kept the batsmen on their toes. He forced Shreyas Gopal to follow the line of one that was slanted across the right-hander and jagged away off the seam. The resultant edge was taken brilliantly by Fazal at first slip. With Akshay Wadkar also diving to his right, Fazal was momentarily blinded, but he flung himself to his left and grabbed it without fuss.
Gurbani’s fifth wicket arrived with a legcutter that had K Gowtham pushing forward into a drive and offering a catch to gully. In the last ball of that over, Gurbani got one to cut in the other way and found the inside edge of Abhimanyu Mithun that snuck away to fine leg and brought up Karnataka’s 200.
Nair remained compact at the other end, displaying characteristic traits of assured feet movement, still head and a straight bat for the most part. Occasionally, he would be ambitious, especially when it came to the sweep, but he played his shots with great control and picked his gaps brilliantly.
Soon after Gurbani’s six-over third spell, which ended with three wickets, Nair raised his century with a single to mid-on and followed it up with an eye-catching celebration, getting down on one knee, pulling out an imaginary bow and firing an arrow into the sky.
He then snuffed out any steam Vidarbha had gathered from Gurbani’s burst. With Vinay, too, hardly troubled by the pace of Vidarbha’s bowlers and showing good judgement outside off, the two shut out Vidarbha’s chances of limiting the lead to a marginal one.