Ranji Trophy: Gowtham's 60* saves Karnataka

"It was not a flat wicket; there was lateral movement every now and then," Gowtham said later. "There are now dents on the wicket, off which the ball cuts sharply. It will continue to assist the medium-pacers."

Vinay Kumar of Karnataka bowled by Ravi Thakur during the Ranji Trophy Match between Karnataka and Vidarbha at Moti Bagh stadium in Vadodara.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

K. Gowtham can do no wrong, it would seem. Having driven Karnataka to two wins with his off-breaks this Ranji Trophy season, the 28-year-old played a decisive role with the bat on Saturday, hauling his side out of certain trouble. A tricky surface and some sharp bowling from Vidarbha's seamers — Lalit Yadav (five for 67) in particular — had combined to reduce Karnataka to 120 for seven on the opening afternoon of this Group B fixture. But the rearguard held firm, with Gowtham's half-century at the heart of that resistance. His rapid 60 (59b, 6x4, 2x6), and his unlikely 78-run alliance for the last wicket with S. Arvind, hauled Karnataka to 267.

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“It was not a flat wicket; there was lateral movement every now and then,” Gowtham said later. “There are now dents on the wicket, off which the ball cuts sharply. It will continue to assist the medium-pacers.” At stumps at the Moti Bagh stadium, Vidarbha was 10 without loss, Sanjay Ramaswamy having survived a vociferous appeal from R. Vinay Kumar. A wicket there would have put a gloss upon a remarkable turnaround.

In the morning, Faiz Fazal had little hesitation inserting the opponent. Lalit Yadav struck in the second over, Mayank Agarwal caught trying to shoulder arms, before R. Samarth edged Ravi Thakur to first slip. Robin Uthappa, who had hitherto driven the ball confidently, then fell in the last over before lunch. He made 46, and was claimed by Aditya Sarwate, off what was the first ball of spin all morning.

Things went steadily downhill on the other side of the interval. Yadav struck twice as Karnataka lost three wickets for one run in the space of 11 balls. C.M. Gautam was caught behind a little later, plunging the side into deep trouble.But Vinay Kumar and Abrar Kazi -- included in the team here at Kaunain Abbas's expense -- added 37 runs for the eighth wicket, staging something of a recovery. Gowtham then took over, launching a stunning counter-attack. Thakur was pulled into the grass banks beyond the square-leg boundary, Akshay Wakhare lofted over deep-midwicket, and Shrikant Wagh chipped over mid-on. Arvind too joined in the fun before Yadav broke the stand to complete a deserved five-wicket haul.

“On a wicket like this it's always better to attack the bowler,” Gowtham noted later. “In trying to defend, you might edge behind. I edged a couple but they flew past the slips.”

Lalit Yadav: 'I don't swing the ball much but I get it to move off the seam'

For a 20-year-old playing only his third first-class game, Lalit Yadav showed no sign of nerves on Saturday. The Vidarbha medium-pacer bothered a strong Karnataka side no end with his control and accuracy, to finish with figures of five for 67. Although cramps had forced him off the field for 40 minutes in the afternoon, Yadav returned to claim his maiden five-wicket haul in the Ranji Trophy.

"It was a helpful wicket. The ball was moving off the seam; it was also shooting off the pitch sometimes," he said later. "I don't swing the ball much but I get it to move off the seam. So at times, it was both moving sideways and flying off the pitch. I just put it in the right areas."

Yadav was disappointed, though, that Karnataka had been let off the hook. "We could have restricted them to 170 or so," he said. "We spread the field a bit, and the last pair was getting easy runs. They batted well too."

Karnataka's batsmen may have arrived with big reputations, but he had not felt under pressure, Yadav said. "My gaze never travels up to a batsman's face; who he is is not my issue. All I do is bowl hard."