After a cautious start, Manish Pandey pushed the accelerator to score a 74 from 107 balls. © Getty Images

After a cautious start, Manish Pandey pushed the accelerator to score a 74 from 107 balls. © Getty Images

For the lack of a better phrase, Manish Pandey said jet-lag was the reason for him to come at No. 5 instead of the planned No. 4 on the opening day of Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy 2017-18 clash against Delhi at the Alur (2) grounds on Thursday (November 9).

Pandey, who was part of India’s limited-overs squad for the series against New Zealand, flew in from Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday evening.

Notwithstanding the hectic schedule, the 28-year-old Karnataka batsman made the most of his return to first-class cricket with a scintillating half-century in his first Ranji game since the quarterfinal against Tamil Nadu in December last year.

Coming out to bat with Karnataka placed well at 181 for 3, Pandey settled in quite nicely, with Mayank Agarwal at the other end, and stepped on the accelerator after a cautious start. Once off the blocks, Pandey barely miscued any of the hits as he slashed and pulled like only he does (with a near-horizontal blade) and drove with abandon en route to 74 from 107 balls with nine boundaries and a couple of sixes.

“It was quite easy after (R) Samarth and Agarwal put together that partnership for the second wicket,” offered Pandey after the day drew to a close with Karnataka finishing on 348 for 4 from 90 overs.

“I had to come down the order because I was feeling a bit tired. Most One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals start in the evening so we’re used to sleeping late and waking up late. But I think it is nice to return to Karnataka and play Ranji Trophy cricket.

“The wicket looks good, and it will be better for our bowlers if we have more runs on board,” he added.

Mayank Agarwal had a poor start to the season but has struck form after a triple hundred against Maharashtra in the previous match. © Wisden India

Mayank Agarwal had a poor start to the season but has struck form after a triple hundred against Maharashtra in the previous match. © Wisden India

While Pandey’s innings was a highlights package until his dismissal to Navdeep Saini in the 82nd over of the day, Agarwal’s unbeaten 169 was a thing of beauty. Agarwal, who scored a triple-century in Karnataka’s previous game against Maharashtra in Pune, hadn’t had the best of starts to his Ranji Trophy campaign, with the season’s second game yielding a nought in each innings against Hyderabad.

Speaking about Agarwal’s dramatic turnaround, Pandey said: “The 300 has helped him a lot. It’ll be important for him to keep going at the same pace. Sometimes it becomes really easy when you have a double-hundred in your pocket. The previous innings was really good and I think he should just stick to this form the entire series. It’ll be easy for him to score about 1000 runs if he keeps batting this way. Things will fall into place for him if he does.”

So impressive was Agarwal’s knock that even Kulwant Khejruliya, Delhi’s new-ball bowler, couldn’t help but wax lyrical. Kehjruliya, the left-arm seamer who spent a fair portion of the day attempting to knock Agarwal’s head off with his bouncers, said Delhi had plans in place for Karnataka’s batsmen, but with the pitch slowing down it was tough to keep the opponents in check.

“At the start of the day, the ball was doing quite a bit and we were hitting the right areas, but they batted very well,” said 25-year-old bowler who made his first-class debut this season. “After we got the wicket (of KL Rahul), we went hard to pick up a few more wickets and it looked very possible as the ball was doing a bit and there was some bounce, but as the ball started to get softer it became hard. Even the pitch started to slow down and shot-making became easy for them.”

One of the ploys used in abundance, mostly during Kehjruliya’s opening spell of 17-3-65-1, was the short ball with four fielders on the leg-side, including a short-leg fielder from time to time.

“I have a bouncer that surprises a lot of batsmen,” said lanky lad. “It hurries on and that’s how I got Rahul out. I tried that over and over again during the day but I didn’t get enough assistance.”

Khejruliya also defended Delhi’s decision to refrain from taking the new ball with ten overs left in the day. If not for Agarwal, Delhi could have called on the new ball to try and put some pressure on Stuart Binny, who came to the crease with little under nine overs left in the day.

“We thought we’d use the new ball in the morning and pick up wickets. We noticed anyway that the pitch had some assistance in the morning so may as well try then instead of using up the shine in the evening,” explained Khejruliya.