On a day that might have belonged to Mayank Agarwal, who looked set to score a double-century, Stuart Binny relegated his younger colleague to a bit of a sidelight, drawing the oohs and aahs on his way to a stunning century in Karnataka’s fifth-round Ranji Trophy 2017-18 Group A clash against Delhi.
Out of the Indian side for over a year, Binny had reiterated the need for a “special” season at the domestic level to even entertain hopes of returning to the national side. His twin fifties against Hyderabad in Karnataka’s trickiest contest so far had laid the base for what could be a good run. On Friday (November 10), he underscored his abilities with a brutal 118 in front of a vociferous crowd at the Karnataka State Cricket Association Ground 2 in Alur on the second day of the ongoing game.
The 155-ball knock, including 18 boundaries, set the tone for Karnataka’s dominance for the second day in succession as they finished on 649 from 172.2 overs to gain a significant advantage over the second-placed team in the group.
Gautam Gambhir and Unmukt Chand made sure Delhi had all their wickets intact as they got to 20 for no loss in five overs at stumps, 629 behnd.
That Karnataka allowed Shreyas Gopal and Abhimanyu Mithun — the tenth-wicket pair — to bat on despite going past the 600-run mark and well into a third session, did raise eyebrows, but it might be a case of putting faith in the bowling department against a fairly inexperienced Delhi batting unit.
The 101-run partnership between Shreyas, who came up with a mature 92 before becoming the last man out, and Mithun did aid in shooing the wind away from Delhi’s sails after a middle period when three wickets fell in quick succession. But if it was not for Agarwal’s 176 and the Binny stunner, Karnataka may not have found themselves in such comfort.
After R Vinay Kumar had won the toss and elected to bat on a docile pitch on Thursday, Agarwal was out to prove that the triple-century against Maharashtra a week ago was no flash in the pan. Even in the presence of national-team returnees such as KL Rahul (nine) and Manish Pandey (74), he stood out. At stumps on the opening day, Agarwal was on 169 and Binny had played himself to an understandably cautious 14.
When the two walked out on the second day to counter what Delhi had to offer in the morning — the only time the pitch here offers any assistance to pacemen — they came across an already dejected outfit.
As it turned out, Agarwal was going to gift Delhi a much-needed break. In the fifth over of the day, Vikas Tokas, the medium pacer, went up in appeal for lbw even as the ball trickled towards backward point. Agarwal, clearly unable to rid himself of all the habits picked up in the shorter formats, attempted to sneak a single though the ball was only a few strides from Nitish Rana. Binny turned down Agarwal’s call, but the 26-year-old was well down the track, and by the time he scurried back, Rana’s throw had dislodged the bails. Agarwal’s stay came to an end after 250 balls, his innings inclusive of 24 fours and three sixes.
It was a great opportunity for CM Gautam to put behind memories of a less-than-mediocre run so far, and he looked the part as he rivalled Binny with a string of quality strokes as the two raced along in a 111-run stand. But, as has been the case with Gautam in the past, he attempted an ill-advised paddle sweep on 46 and handed Milind Kumar a simple catch off the toe-end at short fine leg off the bowling of Manan Sharma (3 for 131).
The dressing room didn’t look too concerned, though. Nearly the entire roster is more than handy with the bat, and Binny was in blinding touch. Every shot pinged off the middle of the 33-year-old’s bat with a thud, exaggerated significantly by the acoustics at the open venue.
In fact, the only time he didn’t have the ball heading in the direction of intent was when he was on 96 and nicked the ball towards Chand at first slip. To his relief, Chand, still in a post-lunch daze, let the ball slip through his fingers and to the third-man fence. A solid back-foot punch through the covers or a nick to fine leg, a first-class century is still worth taking a moment to reflect on, and Binny did. After all, he has gone over the three-figure mark only 10 times since making his debut in 2003.
Binny slipped out of focus once over the milestone, and that was enough for Tokas as the paceman pulled off a stunning return catch to end a 155-ball knock.
Delhi would have felt that they wouldn’t be on the field for much longer as Karnataka slid from 524 for 6 to 548 for 9. Much to their dismay, Mithun was in no mood to swing at everything in the arc as usual and Shreyas wasn’t going to let this chance at getting some runs slip.
Shreyas grew in confidence steadily and made run-scoring seem like child’s play. When that feeling did get the better of him, he walked across and looked to sweep Vikas Mishra (3 for 152) only to let the ball slither on to the stumps.