Ranji Trophy: Saurashtra inches closer to victory

Saurashtra closed in to its first victory this season and avoiding possible relegation after reducing Karnataka to 168 for five in its second innings here on Thursday.

Manish Pandey stitched a 110-run partnership along with Kaunain Abbas.   -  K.Murali Kumar

Saurashtra closed in to its first victory this season and avoiding possible relegation after reducing Karnataka to 168 for five in its second innings here on Thursday, a lead for the table-topper of just nine runs as its batsmen refused to learn from their first-innings mistakes.

Rookie Kaunain Abbas held fort with a fighting 62 runs at stumps on Day Three along with Shreyas Gopal on 15 after the Karnataka batting failed to counter Saurashtra's spinners, who accounted for all five wickets. The pitch that returned no dividends for Karnataka spinners on Day Two appeared to assist those from Saurashtra. More than the bowlers' brilliance, however, it was the lack of application from Karnataka batsmen that should take responsibility.

Even before the match, both captains had admitted that the pitch would aid spinners but also had enough runs for those who showed patience. Barring a crucial 110-run partnership between Abbas and Manish Pandey for the third wicket, there was little to show that the Karnataka batsmen tried to hang around for any reasonable length of time. To add to Karnataka's misery, opener Mayank Agarwal was seen limping out of the ground during Saurashtra innings and did not walk out to bat, sitting with an icepack. The team officials though said there was no injury and it was only a precautionary measure.

Samarth R was the first to go, cleaned up by left-arm spinner Jay Chauhan for 11. Robin Uthappa walked in and, as in the first innings, stuck a classy boundary and then fell leg-before for Makwana's first of three wickets of the day, the ball staying low. That brought on lunch and Pandey to the crease who, along with Abbas, set about repairing the innings.

The duo took a leaf out of the Saurashtra batsmen, not going for fancy shots and playing along the ground, knowing runs would come if only they stayed put. Their 110-run partnership in 231 balls had just two sixes — Abbas' straight hit off Chauhan and Pandey's over long-on — as Karnataka finally appeared settled and cruising to negate the lead in just one session post lunch. While Pandey used the entire ground for his strokes, Abbas favoured the cover region for the bulk of his runs.

But a mistake in calculating the turn saw Pandey's bails clipped for 58. Post tea, two wickets fell in as many overs — both Stuary Binny and CM Gautam dismissed leg-before — saw Karnataka pegged back once again before Gopal and Abbas saw the team through the day.

Earlier, Prerak Mankad and Kamlesh Makwana continued from where they left off overnight before Makwana fell, bowled after missing the line from Stuart Binny, having face 140 balls for his 32 and providing able support to Mankad. Their 121-run partnership had laid the foundation for a sufficient total and even though the remaining batsmen could add little, the bottom-placed team did enough to take a handy 159-run lead.

Mankad was finally bowled for 126 by off-spinner Gowtham K, trying to cut but failing to anticipate the turn. He had faced just 163 balls, stuck 19 fours and just a single six, content playing along the ground and not taking unnecessary risks. That was something that couldn't be said about the opposition. Centurion Mankad had said there were no targets for his team. “We will look to bat as long as we can, try and avoid a fourth innings completely if possible. If not that, try to keep the target to a minimum,” he had hoped. By the end of the day, Saurashtra had done enough to hope for the second.