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It was a classic David v Goliath battle. After all we, Rajasthan, had finished at the bottom of the table in the Plate division last year and Mumbai had won the coveted Ranji Trophy more times than anyone else. Yes, we did turn things around a bit this season but how far do these teams from Plate division go in the men's world? Not too far
That's exactly what Mumbai thought while taking us on in what was deemed to be an easy quarter-final en route to their eventual destination - a place in the finals and perhaps the trophy in their hands one more time. They certainly had enough ammunition to ensure a safe and easy passage. All their batsmen were in top form coming into the knock-outs and their bowlers were doing enough to keep them on track. We, on the other hand, had done everything right so far to earn that all important promotion to the Elite division. For most teams who make the cut, the journey beyond promotion is considered a bonus. What makes their progress even tougher is that they invariably play one of the finalists from last season, which in reality means the toughest match of the season.
We found ourselves in a similar situation and managed to keep the temptation of providing an under-prepared wicket for the match against the defending champions at bay. If you're up against much stronger opposition, it's advisable to leave a lot in the track to bridge the gap as the better team will rout lesser opposition on an even surface nine out of 10 times. Another reason for not going for an under-prepared track was that our strength lies in our batting and we wanted to back it to score whatever Mumbai would score. The second hurdle was the decision to bat or bowl first. While the track was dry and a good one to bat on day one, we would have opted to bowl first in order to extract anything the track had to offer. It goes without saying that we needed all the help we could get to stall such an experienced and talented batting line-up. But Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer won the toss and made the decision for us by electing to bat first.
But what followed after that left everyone gobsmacked. Three things were consistent throughout the day: 1. The track played true and along expected lines; 2. We bowled with a lot of discipline and 3. Mumbai batsmen continued to play airy-fairy shots as if we were not competing but only participating in the contest. The Mumbai batting, which is known for its khadoos (never-say-die) attitude, was the last thing on show. What we witnessed was flamboyance bordering on carelessness and far too many shots in too short a time. Pankaj [Singh], [Deepak] Chahar, [Sumit] Mathur and [Vivek] Yadav did the basics right, pitched the ball in the right areas and the batsmen obliged.
The team which wasn't considered even a patch on their opposition was suddenly in the driver's seat and calling the shots. The batting line-up which bats right down to number nine was bowled out for a paltry total of 252 and now, all we needed to do was to bat sensibly and we did just that.
Everyone, at one point or the other, has been humiliated by Mumbai in their career. Such is the strength of the team that they invariably end up on the winning side rubbing more salt into old wounds. And that brings out the best in players to get the record straight, even if it's once in a while. And that's why every win against them feels a lot sweeter too. Well, it's not often that you have the champions on the mat and the moment is worth a lot more than just a result going your way.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.