In the 63rd over of the Maharashtra innings, with the scoreboard reading 260 for four, Karnataka skipper, R Vinay Kumar, abandoned his long run up. After taking just five steps, Kumar served up four full and wide deliveries. Two of those were full tosses bowled almost on the sixth stump. Chirag Khurana, the batsmen seemed rather disappointed at not getting a clean connection to these four deliveries.
With Maharashtra leading by 50 runs and having six wickets in hand, the game was slowly transforming into an open contest. Khurana and Kedar Jadhav had compiled 88 runs in 122 balls, with both batsmen looking absolutely untroubled by the Karnataka bowling.
Kumar, served up another wide full-toss on his fifth ball. This time Khurana threw his bat at it, trying to hoick it over mid-wicket. The shot looked ugly. The ball took the outside edge and looped up towards the cover region where Robin Uthappa completed an easy catch.
In his next over, Kumar resorted to the full toss again in the fourth ball. Another wicket. This time, Jadhav who had struck a very well-paced 112, smashed the ball straight to Uthappa, who could not believe his luck. With those two wickets, the pendulum seemed to have swung Karnataka’s way at the fag end of Day Four of the Ranji Trophy final, at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium, Hyderabad. Maharashtra finished the penultimate day at 272 for six, 62 runs ahead.
Before that though, the day had seen a fightback from Maharashtra, albeit one aided by some bizarre tactics from Karnataka. After lunch Karnataka skipper Kumar went about placing six fielders on the fence. At one point he had eight along the boundary.
Maharashtra were batting just an hour after play started in the morning after taking the last three Karnataka wickets for 41 runs.
With a 210-run deficit to chase down, the openers started in enterprising fashion, Harshad Khadiwale struck two crisp boundaries while Vijay Zol took on Kumar, lofting him twice over mid-off. Khadiwale fell for nine, failing to get enough bat on his pull shot. Zol, fell first ball after lunch, again trying to fish at a Vinay Kumar delivery outside off, edging to the keeper, replicating his first innings dismissal.
Kedar Jadhav, the highest run-getter for the season, joined Ankeet Bawne in the middle, and the pair soon put the Karnataka bowling to sword. They added 110 runs in 149 balls in the post-lunch session, hitting eight boundaries. However, what stood out in the partnership was the way both batsmen played their assigned roles perfectly. While Bawne said that his job was to remain solid and hold one end up, Jadhav was the enforcer.
The 28-year-old Jadhav, took to his role with relish, clubbing the medium-pace of Srinath Aravind for a boundary to long-on before walking down the wicket against Uthappa, hoisting him straight back down the ground.
Bawne, at the other end, kept the scoreboard ticking. The 21-year-old had 39 singles in his 61 while Jadhav ran 60 in his 112. Both players, ran hard between the wickets, often putting the Karnataka fielders under pressure, something which seemed to happen frequently as the partnership grew.
The Karnataka skipper stuck to his plan of trying to dry up the boundaries even when the leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal operated leaving acres of free space in the field. This particular field setting played into the hands of Jadhav and Bawne. The pair was happy to collect singles, often using the slow nature of the wicket to place their nudges and punches perfectly, which allowed them an extra run.
The field setting along the boundary did not change even when Gopal had Bawne stumped. Sangram Atitkar, skied an attempted slog-sweep to short fine-leg in Gopal’s next over, but the fielders continued to patrol the fence, the two quick wickets failing to draw a response.
Chirag Khurana, the new man, arguably had the best conditions to settle himself in. With a single readily available, the batsman prospered. Jadhav at the other end, found a couple of boundaries, piercing the gaps on the elaborately manned fence.
In the 57th over, with Amit Verma replacing Gopal, Jadhav swept the part-timer for two powerful boundaries and then picked up a double to bring up his sixth ton of a fruitful season. Jadhav finished his season with 1223 runs at 87.53.
At the end of the day, Kumar said that he hoped to restrict Maharashtra to another 100 runs. With the wicket turning, as exhibited by Gopal who got the ball to regularly jump at the batsmen, chasing 150-odd on the Uppal wicket could provide for an interesting final day.
Brief scores: Karnataka 515 all out (S Ganesh 117, KL Rahul 131; S Fallah 3/93, S Mundhe 3/90) vs Maharashtra 305 and 272 for six (K Jadhav 112, A Bawne 61; R Vinay Kumar 4/84, S Gopal 2/37) Maharashtra lead by 62 runs