Twisting his wrists close to his solar plexus, Karnataka’s CM Gautam opened the face of his blade by the acutest of angles. Jaskaran Singh’s shortish ball changed its course on contact with Gautam’s bat and spurted wide of the gully fielder’s right. Ever alert, Jiwanjot Singh leapt, stopping the ball on the bounce and saving a certain four. Then the following occurred.
Noticing that Karun Nair, the non-striker, was harbouring ambitions to nick a single, Jiwanjot fired his arm towards the bowler’s stumps. The throw missed its target. And the backing-up fielder’s defence at mid-on, screeching away for four overthrows and rattling Karnataka’s score up from 194/4 to 198/4.
Such was Punjab’s day. A day when they wronged all their rights.
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Insofar that when the fielders weren’t fluffing it up, the umpires filled in for them. And at the receiving end of all these crucial mistakes was Harbhajan Singh, Punjab captain and a man hell bent on keeping the opposition’s score below his side’s first innings score of 270.
So if the misfield made Harbhajan sigh, the umpiring errors made his snarl.
But all the snarling didn’t stop Karnataka from achieving a healthy 81-run lead by stumps on Day Three. That scorecard, however, could have looked unrecognisably different had umpire Subrat Das not had a forgettable day.
One of his reprieves, Amit Verma, added 110 runs with Nair, the hero of the day with 107*, ending Monday unbeaten on 65. This, when, his innings should have come to an end on 6. Apart from Verma, Das extended Manish Pandey’s life as well, who too incidentally scored 65.
The replays agreed that Harbhajan’s ball in the 46th over, despite being delivered from around the wicket, had indeed pitched on middle and would’ve crashed into the leg stump, had Pandey’s front foot not come in the way.
Had Pandey been dismissed then, Karnataka would’ve been 145 runs in the arrears with just six wickets in hand. Instead, 32 more runs we’re added for the wicket. It may not sound like much, but in what was thus far a low scoring game, it made all the difference.
Nair to the fore
Post-lunch, it was a low-scoring game no more. For Nair, 22, playing in his debut Ranji season and scorer of two centuries in just four matches so far, was in the mood for another big one. And with Gautam around, the boundaries flowed freely. To get into double digits, he swept Harbhajan with command past the fine-leg fence. To get a move on, a reverse-sweep found the third man ropes.
Nair too preferred the lawns behind the wicket, tickling away plenty of his favoured boundary-stroke, the late cut.
With Karnataka’s 200 up, Harbhajan brought himself on in the 68th over. Welcoming him, Nair shimmied down and drove the off-spinner for a handsome boundary.
But when Gautam tried the same move, he was caught for 65. Karnataka, still 30 runs from gaining the lead, were yet not safe. They would be, though, when umpire Das turned down a confident appeal against new man Verma. The lead was soon reeled in.
BRIEF SCORES: Punjab 1st Innings: 270 vs Karnataka 351 for 5 in 110 overs (R Uthappa 47, M Pandey 65,K Nair 107, A Verma 65; Harbhajan 2/79)