BABA Aparajith and Baba Indrajith were born 12 minutes apart. On Thursday at the MCA-BKC ground, Vishal Dabholkar sent them both on their way in less than 5 minutes. Not to forget in the space of two deliveries. As far as bowlers producing twin-strikes goes, it couldn’t have been more literal than this one. By getting rid of the influential twins — Indrajith the older of the two and the stand-in captain in this match and Aparajith his fill-in deputy — in rapid succession, the diminutive Mumbai left-arm spinner had also turned the game on its head.
Tamil Nadu had finished the first session rather comfortably with their score reading 102/1 and with the prospect of feasting on the already harried home team bowling attack, which looked set to get baked further under the searing October heat of Mumbai as afternoon beckoned. But in a jiffy — Dabholkar had dismissed the well-set Kaushik Gandhi two overs earlier — the visitors had self-destructed to slip from a position of strength to a state of disarray, their score reading 107/4 as the Baba twins left the scene. Amid the mayhem and witnessing the tailspin from the other end, stood Dinesh Karthik. On his shoulders lay the responsibility of steadying the ship and lifting Tamil Nadu from the significant hole they had dug themselves into.
But you can never tell which Dinesh Karthik had turned up at the crease. The one who would justify his talent and stroke his team out of trouble or that other impudent alter-ego of his that could easily as well attempt an audacious swipe in the name of a counterattack and throw it all away?
Luckily for Tamil Nadu it was the former avatar, and Karthik would guide his team to a relatively reasonable position, their score reading 249/6, by the end of day’s play through an unbeaten 76 that was achieved as much through attrition as his inherent aggression. In a way, it also ensured that Dabholkar’s extremely impressive returns with the ball, figures of 4/67, didn’t quite hand Mumbai the overwhelming advantage that they would have expected when Tamil Nadu suffered the middle-order collapse.
The first day’s action at BKC was in some ways played out in three parts. Tamil Nadu dominating the first after being put into bat with Aparajith making the most of his promotion to open the innings with a stroke-filled half-century. Then came the Dabholkar show as he got the ball to turn and rip off — especially when he got Gandhi caught at slip — the otherwise benign and mercilessly brown wicket. And then Karthik took over, and having kept his composure and penchant to go after the spinners under check, to dominate the final period of play. Like with most Karthik innings, there were quite a few eye-catching strokes — a swivel pull, rasping cut shots, and a couple of attractive aerial strikes against spin — but he mixed them maturely with resolute defence.
He was judicious in his footwork, stretching out to ward off the dangers posed by the accuracy of the Mumbai seam attack as Dhawal Kulkarni, Shardul Thakur and Balwinder Singh Sandhu wheeled away. Thakur had netted the big scalp earlier in the day, surprising Murali Vijay with a delivery that rose off a length and getting him caught off the splice of his bat.
But once the October heat got to them, and the Mumbai seamers began tiring, Karthik wasn’t keen on showing any mercy, and he tore into them with a vengeance. There was support from J Kousik, who stood his ground and made 39 before being castled by a Dabholkar special that came in off the angle, pitched and turned to hit off-stump, one of the many incisive jabs that the left-arm spinner landed on his opponents at BKC even if he couldn’t quite knock them out.
Brief scores: Tamil Nadu 249/6 in 90 overs (Baba Aparajith 62, Dinesh Karthik 76*; Vishal Dabholkar 4/67) vs Mumbai.