Young Karun Nair completed a hat-trick of first-class centuries in his debut season as Karnataka seized control of their Ranji Trophy semi-final against hosts Punjab, taking an 81-run first innings lead on the third day, in Mohali, on Monday.
Replying to Punjab's first innings total of 270, the visitors ended the third day's play on 351 for 5, with Nair unbeaten on a career-best score of 107 in the company of comeback man Amit Verma, who struck an unbeaten 65.
The duo added 110 runs for the unbroken sixth wicket stand as Harbhajan Singh and Co. were left frustrated following useful contributions from Manish Pandey (65) and wicketkeeper-batsman CM Gautam (48).
Karnataka did well to addd 312 runs to their overnight score of 39 for 2 while losing only three wickets.
With first day's play lost due to inclement weather, the match has effectively turned into a four-day affair in which Karnataka will be aiming to bat Punjab out of the contest.
The 22-year-old Nair, who made his first-class debut this season, scored an even-100 against Uttar Pradesh in the quarter-finals, and registered his maiden ton (105) against Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla in the match prior to that.
He faced 191 balls during the day, hitting nine fours. His innings was a mix of caution and aggression. While he punished the loose balls, he did wait for his chance when the Punjab bowlers were doing a good job.
He was severe on anything offered on the pads, and played a lot of strokes late with loose hands while opening the face of his bat.
He came in at the fall of Robin Uthappa (47), who was trapped in-front by Harbhajan with an off-break, as Karnataka were reduced to 94 for three.
With Pandey, Nair added 64 runs for the fourth wicket. Pandey played some good strokes, including a pulled six off Manpreet Gony. However, he lost concentration after getting to fifty and edged a delivery from Sandeep Sharma to Gitansh Khera behind the stumps.
Once Gautam came in, there was no further damage as the two added 83 runs in only 18.5 overs, the glovesman hitting seven boundaries.
Nair, on his part, hit a couple boundaries off Harbhajan's deliveries, including one where he came down the track to hit the bowler through the cover region.
Harbhajan finally got his second wicket when he fired one down leg side after watching Gautam trying to give him the charge. The resultant catch was taken by Jiwanjot Singh at square leg.
With 29 runs still to get before taking a first innings lead, Nair found an able ally in left-hander Verma, who was making a comeback into the team having last played a year ago.
He started off with a streaky boundary and his first six runs came off 59 balls. However, in his next five deliveries, he hit four boundaries which also got Karnataka the first innings lead.
Nair, on the other hand, reached his third successive ton in 177 balls when he pushed offie Gurkeerat Singh through the cover region for a single.
Punjab (1st Innings): 270
Karnataka 1st innings: (Overnight 39-2)
R Uthappa lbw Harbhajan 47
KL Rahul c Khera b Gony 4
M Agarwal c Khera b Jaskaran 0
M Pandey c Khera b Sandeep 65
K Nair batting 107
CM Gautam c Jiwanjot b Harbhajan 48
A Verma batting 65
Extras: (lb-7, nb-8) 15
Total: (For five wickets, 110 overs) 351
Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-23, 3-94, 4-158, 5-241
Bowling: Sandeep 23-5-58-1, Gony 25-2-85-1, Jaskaran 19-3-68-1, Harbhajan 24-2-79-2, Yuvraj 4-0-14-0, Kohli 6-0-26-0, Gurkeerat 9-1-14-0.
Image: Karun Nair