Hubli: Day four brought the best possible outcome for Karnataka, a win with a bonus point, and the news that they had moved to the top of Group A thanks to results elsewhere. But it didn’t come easy.
Karnataka’s bowlers almost went wicket-less in the first session, as Gurkeerat Singh and Gitansh Khera counter-punched their way to a sixth-wicket partnership of 186. Both players made their highest scores in first class cricket in averting an innings defeat for Punjab.
Chasing 31 to win, Karnataka almost lost their bonus point. In the third over of their innings, Mayank Agarwal’s attempt at hooking Sandeep Sharma resulted in a loud caught-behind appeal. Umpire Suresh Shastri gave it out initially, but after conferring with square leg umpire Milind Pathak, reversed his decision just as Agarwal was about to cross the rope.
With that behind them, Karnataka raced home in 4.5 overs, with KL Rahul stroking five crisp fours in a 13-ball 25, including the winning pull off Sandeep.
The pitch, as Rahul showed, had eased out completely. It was the ideal platform for Gurkeerat and Khera, whose partnership was 41 overnight, to display the talent that lay hidden beneath their ordinary first-class numbers.
Before this match, their combined efforts had produced 323 runs in 15 innings at an average of just under 25, with one half-century between them. In the first innings, Gurkeerat had thrown his wicket away after losing patience with Karnataka’s relentless fifth-stump line. Khera, Punjab’s wicketkeeper, was making a comeback after playing the last of his five first-class matches in November 2011.
Punjab began the day needing 175 to make Karnataka bat again. Gurkeerat had been positive on the third evening and continued in that vein, driving whenever the ball was pitched up. Khera was equally aggressive to start with, cracking Vinay Kumar for successive fours square on the off-side to move into the 30s.
Vinay and Abhimanyu Mithun gave way after bowling just four and three overs in their first spells of the day. With an eye on the second new ball, Karnataka spread the field and looked to limit the boundaries. The singles flowed easily, especially off KP Appanna’s left-arm spin, and Khera cut him to deep point to walk from 49 to 50.
With three overs to go for the new ball, Khera jumped down the pitch and hit Appanna over his head for a one-bounce four. Gurkeerat repeated the stroke from the crease, off the last ball of the over, to bring up both his century and the 150 partnership.
Karnataka struck in their fourth over with the second new ball, the last before lunch, Vinay getting Khera lbw with a ball that might have missed leg stump. Khera was shaping for a leg glance, and it seemed as if the fielders had gone up for a caught-behind chance – CM Gautam, diving to his left, dropped the ball and injured his finger – rather than an lbw appeal.
Gurkeerat continued to play his shots after lunch. A checked drive for four off Vinay followed by a hurried single to point brought up his 150 and levelled the scores. Soon after that, though, he flicked Stuart Binny uppishly, straight to short midwicket.
In the first innings, Punjab lost their last three wickets in the space of 12 balls as their tailenders threw their bats at everything. They were even more cavalier this time, and needed just four balls to go from 361 for seven to 361 all out.
Karnataka 505 for 9 dec (Pandey 161, Vinay 105*) and 33 for 0 (Rahul 25*) beat Punjab 174 (Vohra 69, Appanna 3-29) and by 361 (Gurkeerat 157, Khera 84) by 10 wickets.