Rajasthan stun Baroda in Ranji sign-off
Rajasthan 333 (Suwalka 74, Saxena 66, Gagandeep 7-109) and 74 for 4 (Saraf 29, Gagandeep 3-29) beat Baroda 236 (Waghmode 114, Chahar 5-58) and 167 (Irfan 84, Chahar 4-40) by six wickets
In the absence of any professionals and playing against a more experienced opponent, Rajasthan might never have imagined an outright victory four days back. But that is exactly what they did, embarrassing Yusuf Pathan's Baroda with a six-wicket win in their final league match. Chasing 71, Rajasthan wrapped up the match before lunch although their top order batsmen fumbled in their eagerness to finish early.
The match had turned on its head on Wednesday evening when Rajasthan's quicks led by Pankaj Singh, along with Deepak Chahar and Aniket Choudhary, had sent half the Baroda side packing in the final session of play.
Baroda had started the day with a wafer-thin 15-run lead and just four wickets to raise any sort of a challenge. It was clear that if they needed to prevent defeat the Pathan brothers needed to play out of their skins. But considering Yusuf was struggling with a bout of fever for the last two days - during which he had not taken the field - and had to force himself out of bed to bat, that was asking too much.
As early as the ninth delivery of the final morning, Gagandeep Singh edged Chahar to Rajesh Bishnoi at second slip. Another early wicket was in the offing when Yusuf tried to push at a Chahar delivery which had straightened after pitching. It was only the ninth ball of the innings for Yusuf, but this time Bishnoi failed to bend forward and pick a difficult, albeit possible, low chance.
Luckily it did not hurt Rajasthan too much as a couple of overs later, a visibly weak Yusuf flayed helplessly at a fuller-length delivery from Chahar and the leading edge was gladly accepted by Choudhary at mid-off. Yusuf, who had come in to bat at No. 9 since he had not taken the field during Rajasthan's innings (he could have come in from No. 5, according to the rules), did not even see the catch finish as he immediately turned and walked back towards the dressing room, head down. The only hurdle now between victory and Rajasthan was the younger Pathan.
Irfan had started the morning on a positive note as he hit two sixes of a wayward Pankaj, who went for 20 runs off his first three overs and was duly removed from the attack. A slog sweep over deep midwicket put him in the 80s, but Irfan knew he was fighting a losing battle. Attempting to clear the straight boundary, he was caught on the edge of the rope at long on, bringing Baroda's challenge to an end.
Rajasthan, who had won the title successive years in 2011 and 2012, wrapped up their campaign with two outright victories to finish with 20 points, same as Baroda, who finished one rung higher only because they had three wins.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo