Rituraj stars as Rajasthan make final again
Rajasthan 89 (Harshal Patel 8-34) & 192 (Saxena 58, Rana 4-26) beat Haryana 97 (Rituraj 7-45) & 120 (Rituraj 5-37) by 64 runs
Rajasthan have entered the Ranji Trophy final for the second year straight, following a 64-run win over Haryana at the Bansi Lal stadium in Lahli outside Rohtak. A dramatic semi-final with many twists and turns ended just an hour after lunch on the third day with Puneet Yadav taking a catch at deep point to dismiss Mohit Sharma off Rituraj Singh, to end the rapid but brief tenth-wicket partnership.
Rituraj Singh, in only his third first-class game, was the highest wicket-taker for Rajasthan in the innings 5 for 37; his match tally stood at 12 for 82.
A clutter of five wickets in the first session had as good as sealed it for Rajasthan, with Sachin Rana's dismissal just before lunch marking the moment in the game (the scoreboard read 88 for 7 then) when the defending champions knew they had done enough to enter the final.
The day had begun with optimism from Haryana - the sun was at its brightest and the pitch at its most benevolent over the course of the game. Yet Rajasthan's bowlers ensured that they held the first session in their fist.
Rituraj, an MRF camper from Jaipur who can bowl accurate medium pace and swings the ball, is playing in only the third match of his debut season. After 7 for 45 in the first innings, he first sent back nightwatchman Harshal Patel, one of four Rajashtan wickets to fall from nicks to the keeper and the slip cordon in the innings.
The new batsman, Prateek Pawar, was kept on a leash, given little room or length to score, cramped particularly by Rituraj. Pawar's inability to get off the strike helped Rajasthan get quickly on top in their contest against the batsman this morning. Pawar scored only one run off the 11 balls he faced off Rituraj, the low skiddy bounce and Rituraj's accuracy leading to his leg before dismissal.
It was Sachin Rana who was the most positive of Haryana's batsmen in the second innings, pushing the scoreboard move along, hustling singles when he could and looking to set up the earliest foundations of a partnership that could give Haryana any kind of chance. With opener Nitin Saini looking assured, the strike began to be turned over. It brought about a change of ends for Pankaj Singh, and Rana then struck his first boundary through point and followed it up with a quick two off the next ball in the same direction.
At that point, Haryana had crossed 50, the target shrank a little and a single later the strike had turned over to Saini. He drove at one from Pankaj that was leaving him slightly and nicked it to first slip. Hrishikesh Kanitkar had to bend low to take the catch, but held on. The umpires checked with each other whether the catch had carried, and the disgruntled Saini took his time to leave the crease.
The new man in, Priyank Tehlan, had to answer questions being put to him by medium pacer Sumit Mathur. Mathur is a deceptive competitor. Early in his spell, struck for a boundary by Saini, he got the next ball to hit the batsman on the box. He was an ideal replacement for Pankaj's first spell from the pavilion end. Mathur first cut Tehlan, brother of Delhi's Mayank, in half with one delivery and then struck him low on the pads more than once.
After 18 balls of tussle, Mathur got one to come back in off the track past Tehlan's defence and bowled him. It brought captain Amit Mishra to the crease, and his presence represented Haryana's last hope in the game. Rana was still batting on 19 and Mishra came with the calmness of experience.
Less than 15 minutes before lunch came the dismissal that was to spell Haryana's end. Rana struck a crisp drive through extra cover off Pankaj Singh and two balls later was struck on the pads as he tried to work him across the line to the onside.
Three wickets were needed after lunch, and the interval, like on the previous two days, brought a wicket just after resumption. Jayant Yadav got stuck into one wide from Rituraj, the ball flying through the air. It met the outstretched right hand of the points fielder, Puneet Yadav, and Rajasthan needed only two more. Rituraj walked over to his fielding position oin the boundary line and grinning at his coach said, "bad ball." Bad ball, excellent catch, the ticket to the final sealed. Mishra departed four overs later, after his looping mistimed upper cut off Pankaj Singh was caught by Robin Bist at point.
Haryana's last three batsmen were caught at point, the lower orders trying to carve their way out of an awful predicament. Unyielding Rajasthan would have none of it.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo