Mayank Agarwal’s mammoth 249 leads Karnataka’s solid recovery

Saurashtra 76 for 2 (Desai 27*, Jackson 27*, Kaverappa 2-24) trail Karnataka 407 (Agarwal 249, Sharath 66, Sakariya 3-73) by 331 runs

Mayank Agarwal converted his third hundred of the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy season into his second double-century, a mammoth backs-to-the-wall 249 to put Karnataka firmly on top in the semi-final against Saurashtra in Bengaluru.

Karnataka had resumed on day two at 229 for 5, as Agarwal added 139 to his overnight tally to run the visitors ragged until half an hour prior to tea. By the time Agarwal – the last wicket to fall – was run out trying to steal a non-existent second run, he had helped Karnataka stage a remarkable recovery; they ended with 407 after being 112 for 5 at one stage, with Agarwal’s vigil alone lasting 626 minutes and 429 balls.

Pace bowler Vidwath Kaverappa then got into the act by jagging back deliveries that both of Saurashtra’s openers – Snell Patel and Harvik Desai – left alone, to flatten the off stump. Vasuki Koushik, the other seamer, complemented Kaverappa superbly by starting his spell with seven maidens on the trot.

Koushik should have also had Sheldon Jackson caught at slip on 23 in the penultimate over of the day, but the catch off the outside edge was dropped by R Samarth, as Saurashtra ended the day on 76 for 2, another 331 runs behind the hosts’ first-innings total.

Big swing and seam movement from the first day’s play gave way to slightly easier batting conditions on the second, but batters still had to apply themselves; and Agarwal gave himself the best chance. As the day progressed, he feasted on some tired bowling that neither asked questions of the batters nor strung up any pressure by way of run containment.

If self-restraint was the order of Agarwal’s innings on Wednesday, his flamboyant strokeplay and tactful strike rotation with the lower order was the hallmark of his effort on Thursday. On 141 when No. 10 Kaverappa joined him, Agarwal – who finished with 28 fours and six sixes – played some of the most aesthetically pleasing strokes in trying to swell Karnataka’s score.

Saurashtra’s decision to spread the field out and target Agarwal’s batting partners was a ploy that backfired spectacularly. It was also a surprise move, given Saurashtra had struck twice in the first 45 minutes of the morning.

Srinivas Sharath, after making his third half-century in first-class cricket, was trapped lbw for 66 in the sixth over of the day when left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya got one to bend back in. Three overs later, K Gowtham was out nicking to the slips off Chirag Jani. At that point, Karnataka were 255 for 7, and not out of the woods yet.

Then Agarwal farmed strike superbly with the lower order to haul Karnataka to a position of strength. All said, the surface was still very good for batting. Saurashtra will hope for better application from their middle order to keep them in contention for a place in the final.

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