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The third day, in my opinion, is usually the most important day of a four- or five-day game. And tomorrow is not going to disappoint the theorist in me, or so I hope. The match is "evenly" poised - I need to be objective while writing about a game I'm involved in, right? But is it not obvious to believe that we are slightly ahead of Tamil Nadu at this juncture, after all being objective is one thing and being totally detached is quite another.
We have already batted and they still have to. We have runs on the board, quite a lot of them, and now they need to chase them down. They may not have to deal with the first day's fresh wicket with moisture, but then they will have to fight with tired limbs to go past whatever total we post. If days two and three are the best days to bat on this track, day four might spring a surprise or two.
This has been a classic cat and mouse game so far. The moment one side goes on the offensive, even slightly, the other team pulls down the shutters and plays defensively. For instance, whenever Tamil Nadu's four-pronged seam attack bowled aggressively to take wickets, we played with extra caution in order to deny them a look in. And the moment we tried to up the ante, Tamil Nadu deployed defensive field with a defensive line of attack. It didn't make for entertaining cricket but, unfortunately, it isn't about entertainment when a place in the Ranji Trophy finals is at stake.
This strategy may have something to do with past experiences. Rajasthan faced a similar situation against Maharashtra in the semi-finals of the Plate Division. We played it safe for the longest possible time after being put into the bat and then piled on a mountain of runs to put pressure on them. And it turned out just fine. Tamil Nadu, fresh from their victory against Haryana, must be expecting a similar fate in this game too. They played four front line seam bowlers to exploit the conditions after putting us to bat. And as soon as they realized that wickets weren't easy to come by, they went on the defensive, yet bowling tight lines. They must be entertaining the thoughts that this game might also be decided on the basis of run-rate and not on first-innings lead. While the past can teach you a thing or two, it can also blur your judgement.
Both teams, at this juncture, must be thinking that they have played their cards right so far. We're hoping to bat for some more time tomorrow and add a few vital runs before letting our bowlers to have a go at their batsmen. We know that they have a very experienced batting line-up but chasing over 500 on a wearing pitch in a semi-final game, after fielding for over two days, will test their depth and resolve.
For them, it'll be about batting session after session without committing mistakes and also maintaining a healthy run-rate, while for us, it will be pitching the ball in the right areas and asking questions throughout. We have learnt a trick or two from Dinesh Karthik, who employed an in-out field most of the time. We also now know the preferred areas of scoring on this pitch, and where exactly to bowl in order to get the most out of this surface. But it doesn't mean that our task is going to be easy, for they do have both quality and experience in their batting to overcome a huge total and bat for long hours.
It's tough, at this moment, to predict what my next post about the match would be, but one thing is for sure that the third day of this match promises to produce an intriguing day of cricket.
© ESPN EMEA 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.