The condition of the ball, allegedly scuffed up once and out of shape later, was under intense scrutiny. The Karnataka camp was evidently agitated as the Punjab bowlers looked to win the first innings lead in the Ranji Trophy semifinal here.

It was Karnataka, however, that won the day, thanks principally to Karun Nair’s third consecutive century (107 batting), which saw his side go to stumps with a first innings lead of 81 with five wickets in hand.

Karnataka was convinced that the ball had been tampered with. The umpires, Subrat Das — who was having a rare bad day — and Sudhir Asnani, disagreed. They did change the ball twice, but there was no indication of any penalty being levied on the home team, or even a warning being issued.

Eventually, the matter seemed buried after Karnataka firmly took the upper hand.

Resuming at 39 for two, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey maintained their vigil even as Punjab pressed hard. Uthappa was lucky when Das missed Uthappa’s gloved deflection off Harbhajan Singh. However, he soon adjudged the batsman leg-before off the same bowler.

Pandey was lucky to survive a shout for leg-before, and so was Amit Verma as Punjab toiled, and later just allowed things to drift as Karnataka finished the day at 351 for five.

The Punjab players lamented the decisions that went against them, but Karnataka batsmen deserve credit for not losing focus.

The task was shared by Uthappa (47), Pandey (65), Karun, C.M. Gautam (48) and Verma (65 batting). Their collective effort was the clinching factor in the day’s play.

Punjab had its own performers as skipper Harbhajan (two for 79) laboured to keep his team motivated. It was perhaps his zeal that saw him earn a penalty of 25 per cent of his match fee for overly enthusiastic appealing.

Karun, who is on his debut season, was following up his earlier centuries (105 v Delhi and 100 v Uttar Pradesh) with a highly disciplined essay.

“I wanted to bat patiently, and it worked. It was a good wicket to bat on. It was just the pressure they were putting on us that made the situation difficult. I just thought I had to hang around a bit and the runs would come,” said Karun.

A keen student of the game, Karun fell back on the basics and looked to milk the Punjab attack.

After a shaky start to his career, he had reflected on his batting and took a conscious decision to bide his time instead of playing strokes on impulse, Karun revealed.

“My coach (Anil Kumar) pointed out a few flaws in my technique and style, and I just worked on it. I got runs very easily in age-group cricket, and that’s why I found it hard when I didn’t get runs in my first two games. I thought I’d play the same way but it didn’t work. So I had to tighten up and become patient,” he said. Uthappa’s was the day’s first wicket, and when Pandey followed him, Punjab would have sensed an opening.

However, Karun and Gautam added 83 runs for the fifth wicket, and after the latter’s departure Verma joined Karun to take the game away from Punjab, building on the advantage in the last session.

“We have the team to go all the way but it’s not over yet. We need to bat as much as possible,” said Karun.

Punjab will have its hands full on Tuesday.

The scores:

Punjab — 1st innings: 270.

Karnataka — 1st innings: Robin Uthappa lbw b Harbhajan 47, K.L. Rahul c Khera b Gony 4, Mayank Agarwal c Khera b Jaskaran 0, Manish Pandey c Khera b Sandeep 65, Karun Nair (batting) 107, C.M. Gautam c Jiwanjot b Harbhajan 48, Amit Verma (batting) 65; Extras (lb-7, nb-8) 15; Total (for five wkts. in 110 overs): 351.

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-23, 3-94, 4-158, 5-241.

Punjab bowling: Sandeep Sharma 23-5-58-1, Manpreet Gony 25-2-85-1, Jaskaran Singh 19-3-68-1, Harbhajan Singh 24-2-79-2, Yuvraj Singh 4-0-14-0, Taruwar Kohli 6-0-26-0, Gurkeerat Singh 9-1-14-0.

Keywords: Ranji Trophy

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