Jaydev Unadkat made the ball dart around both ways, from over the stumps or around them, at the outset. Karnataka's batsmen flailed and poked, against both pace and spin, at the close. In the middle period, the trio of Manish Pandey, Shreyas Gopal and S Sharath held sway. But despite that middle period being twice as long as the start and the finish, the day was defined by how it began and how it ended.
In a session's worth of play - 14.1 overs first up and the last 15 overs - Karnataka lost eight wickets, and with it the initiative in their semi-final against Saurashtra.
Unadkat was terrific, keeping the ball in the channel, working the angles to yank bat away from body and pad and into a poke, getting subtle movement and cranking up the pace when needed. But a batting line-up that has Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and Pandey among its first five batsmen but still finds itself at 30 for 4 after choosing to bat must ask itself questions. A lower order that has decent batting chops must also ask itself questions if the score tumbles from 232 for 5 to 258 for 9.
When Pandey chose to bat first on Thursday at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, he would have known that the first hour presented the most testing phase. The ball was new, the bowlers raring and the pitch fresh. He would have known equally, that if Karnataka could survive the opening hour, there would be runs for the taking. Except, Unadkat had other plans.
"Honestly, there was nothing new in the plan," Unadkat said. "We thought there was some moisture in the wicket. To take the advantage of that it was necessary to bowl in the right areas, on the top of off stump. That's what we talked about after I bowled a couple of overs, and I told Chetan (Sakariya) as well that we'll keep the off-stump lines and wait for them to commit errors. Looking at the way the pitch was behaving, it was the only plan that was there in my mind. I'm happy that we actually got those wickets. At times it doesn't come even if you bowl in good areas and bowl good balls. Later on the spinners also capitalised in the end."
Unadkat's opening burst brought three wickets in seven uninterrupted overs. He had taken out R Samarth with the third ball of the match. He then got a one to tail in late to account for KV Siddharth, Karnataka's highest scorer this season. And the most crucial strike came when the plan to stifle Agarwal resulted in a poke that was snaffled by the wicketkeeper. The man who handled Mitchell Starc's left-arm pace confidently on Test debut was undone by Saurashtra's captain.
"For Mayank I just had a set plan to bowl top of off stump, in the fourth-stump line. There was movement happening at that time, so for me it was just simple," Unadkat said. "I had to bowl in the right areas and wait for him to commit an error. Because we were bowling in partnerships, and not giving him loose balls, not giving him boundaries - I think that was the reason he didn't really get his shots and he just pushed at a good ball."
Pandey then took the onus on himself to carry his team out of trouble. Counterattacking from the start, he succeeded in making Unadkat change his plans. Once the spinners came on, the field began to spread, and more importantly, the bowlers couldn't settle on a length because Pandey was using his feet and the depth of the crease.
Unadkat had not bowled in the first session after a seven-over burst. He later explained this was because he knew he would have to spread out his overs across the day. He duly came back after lunch and got his man, setting him up with one that went away, and then bowling a quicker, fuller ball homing in on the stumps. Pandey wasn't in position to play it, and brought his bat down too late, by when the ball had found its target.
"After lunch, it wasn't really moving much so I was trying to get something out of it," Unadkat said. "I was bending my back as well. That particular ball, I think if you saw the one before that it was an outswinger and he got beaten. So I just had a feeling that if I bowl this ball up and get it to swing in, which it did, it could get him lbw or bowled and that happened."
What Unadkat started, Karnataka's batsmen finished. In the final hour, Shreyas tried to swipe Kamlesh Makvana across the line and found that he had played for turn that wasn't there, the ball merely going with the angle from around the wicket. Shreyas had stayed at the crease for more than four hours with exemplary concentration, so one lapse was understandable. Unfortunately for him, his first mistake was his last. There was no redemption in the other dismissals though. Both K Gowtham and Vinay Kumar have first-class centuries while Abhimanyu Mithun has a highest score of 89. They collectively scored 14 off 35 balls. Gowtham was dropped second ball off Makvana, but he wafted at one lazily outside off to give slip-catching practice. Both Vinay and Mithun played ugly slogs across the line - one was bowled, the other caught off a top edge.
The lower order had fallen while copying Pandey's counterattack but without his skill. This despite, Shreyas and Sharath putting on an exhibition of patience and classical long-format batting, and with Sharath watching from the other end while batting unbeaten on a maiden first-class fifty.
Sharath conceded that he and Shreyas "were actually looking at 300" when they were together as a reasonable end-of-day score, so by their own measure 264 for 9 was considerably below par.
Karnataka may have had the better of four hours out of six on the first day. But it's the two hours they conceded that have made the most impact.