Gautam Gambhir has seen his fair share of cricket in a first-class career spanning nearly two decades, but even he was left standing with a hand over his mouth for the most part of Thursday (November 9) as Karnataka’s batsmen feasted on Delhi’s rudderless bowling on the opening day of their Group A Ranji Trophy 2017-18 encounter at Alur (2) grounds.
The man largely responsible for Gambhir — the most experienced player on the field — slipping in and out of slumber on a hot day was Mayank Agarwal. Even as Rishabh Pant, Delhi’s new skipper in Ishant Sharma’s absence, attempted to coax his men to keep up their intensity, the 26-year-old Karnataka batsman showcased his new-found liking for the long hit without sacrificing attributes which make him a force to reckon with in the shorter formats.
A careful concoction of aggression and caution saw Agarwal pick up his second century in as many innings. The previous century, a brilliant 304 not out against Maharashtra in Pune under a week ago, was his third in 32 first-class games. It did not take Agarwal long to up the number to four as he scripted a fine 169 not out to guide Karnataka to a handsome 348 for 4 from 90 overs at stumps. Keeping him company was Stuart Binny, on 14.
Although Agarwal came away with the accolades, it was KL Rahul, Manish Pandey and Karun Nair who drew most cheers from a generous spattering of spectators at a venue some 22 kilometres from the heart of Bangalore.
Not that they didn’t acknowledge Agarwal after his David Warner-esque leap on reaching the three-figure mark, or when he smashed each of the 23 boundaries and three sixes, but decibel levels certainly peaked when Rahul smashed the lone four in his nine-run stay at the crease. When Nair and Pandey made their way out to the middle, the crowd ushered them in with a loud applause.
Had it not been for Pandey’s breezy 74 from 107 balls with nine fours and two sixes, they would have gone back without witnessing even one current India player shine.
It was expected that a decent number would turn up to witness Karnataka’s fourth match of the season, especially with Rahul and Pandey returning to the side, but it came as a surprise that over 200 turned up and sat on the small grass banks to catch the action as R Vinay Kumar, the Karnataka skipper, won the toss and decided to bat first.
The icing on the cake was that yesteryear stars such as GR Viswanath and Syed Kirmani, as well as a handful of players who have contributed heavily to Karnataka cricket in the past, were invited and in attendance.
That apart, MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors for the senior Indian team, was also present, and what he saw would have pleased him considerably.
While Rahul’s dismissal — a miscued pull in the eighth over off Kulwant Khejruliya, the left-arm seamer — would have disappointed the former India wicketkeeper-batsman for the Test opener was attempting to manufacture a shot, he would have enjoyed the 112-run second-wicket partnership between R Samarth and Agarwal, and then the 136-run stand between Agarwal and Pandey.
The Samarth-Agarwal alliance had realised 259 runs for the first wicket in the previous game against Maharashtra, Samarth coming up with a century to go with Agarwal’s triple. They didn’t look perturbed here either.
As Agarwal battled to curb his natural instincts, Samarth coasted to a half-century, and was well set for his third century this season, but his stay was cut short for 58 when Vikas Mishra, the left-arm spinner, got the ball to spit and bounce away from the youngster for an outside edge to Gambhir at first slip.
Nair came and returned just as swiftly after a couple of lusty blows to the fence. His 15-run innings wasn’t particularly eventful but the crowd ate it up all the same until he attempted a sweep and was trapped in front of the stumps by Manan Sharma, the second left-arm spinner in the side.
Agarwal, now in partnership with Pandey, suffered a minor lapse in concentration with tea around the corner, but he survived Khejruliya’s fiery spell and made it count when he returned for the final session.
Even as Pant rotated his bowlers and kept altering field, with inputs from Gambhir by this time, the duo kept its foot on the accelerator, upping the run rate to nearly four runs an over and keeping it there. It seemed inevitable that the duo would swell the tally further and walk off unconquered at stumps.
To Delhi’s relief, possibly even surprise, Pandey opened the bat face and handed Pant a low catch to bring an end to the fourth-wicket stand with under nine overs left in the day. By the time Pandey was back in the pavilion, Agarwal had brought up his 150 and Karnataka had crossed the 300-run mark.