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The Report by Nagraj Gollapudi at Chepauk
January 19, 2012
Rajasthan 221 for no loss (Saxena 120*, Chopra 86*) v Tamil Nadu
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
In an age of sit-ins, Rajasthan were on an Occupy Chepauk drive as their opening pair of Vineet Saxena and Aakash Chopra frustrated Tamil Nadu to return undefeated at stumps, having raised the highest partnership for the opening wicket (for Rajasthan against the hosts) in the process. The pair broke its own record of 181 runs in the semi-final last year. Back then, Tamil Nadu had elected to field in Jaipur and Rajasthan finished the day on 236 for the loss of Saxena. Today Saxena scored a brilliant century, his second of the season, and Rajasthan finished on a modest yet assuring score that has given them control of this summit clash.
The manner in which Rajasthan went about their batting today is how they've conquered their opponents: using the slow-drip batting method as a means of torture. This season alone, in the four of the nine previous matches, they scored 450-plus totals in the first innings to gain the upper hand. Today was no different, after Hrishikesh Kanitkar won the toss and elected to bat.
The first over was an aberration. L Balaji, the Tamil Nadu captain, conceded 17 runs. He started errantly, spraying the ball down the leg side. Chopra clipped two boundaries past square leg, one of those off a no-ball. Balaji then sprayed four byes before Saxena punched a fluent straight drive for the third four in the over.
The next four overs yielded just one run. Before lunch, Balaji bowled another six overs that included five maidens. In between, off the first delivery of the sixth over, Jagannathan Kaushik pitched it back of a length outside off stump. Chopra had made up his mind to attempt a pull but misjudged the bounce and pace and was hit flush on his face, just below his left eye, which swelled up immediately. He took a fresh guard and was aware Kaushik would repeat the same delivery, and covered the ball well the second time around.
With the sun out in full flow, whatever little moisture was available on the surface disappeared quickly, allowing the Rajasthan openers to lounge comfortably on a flat pitch. Saxena showed good footwork by frequently stepping out to the left-arm spin of Aushik Srinivas, who was introduced immediately after the first hour. The plan was not only to put the young spinner, only 18, under pressure but also negate the silly point. Saxena grew in confidence with a boundary threaded through short extra cover and mid-off. A punch off the back foot against the offspinner Sunny Gupta took him to his seventh fifty of the season. Rajasthan reached lunch 89 for 0 without fuss.
The challenge for Saxena, as he would admit at the end of the day's play, has been to convert his starts. So far this season he had only one century, against Saurashtra. His only other important contribution came in the semis, on a seaming pitch against Haryana where he made 32 and 58 to help the defending champions reach their second final in a row. Today, after lunch, the runs dried up. In the fifteen overs after the break, Rajasthan scored just 23. Saxena himself took 44 deliveries to move from 51 to 55.
That's where Chopra's calming influence helped. He assured his partner that it was just a passing phase. Chopra survived a a close call himself, when Balaji got the ball to reverse into his back pad. Chopra saved himself by moving across. The ball had hit the pad outside the line of off stump and the English umpire Peter Hartley shrugged at the appeal. Another close decision went in his favour was when he lunged forward to play a defensive prod against the part-time leg spin of Abhinav Mukund. The ball seemed to have hit in the line of off stump but Hartley did not agree again.
Chopra reached his 49th first-class fifty with a perfectly-timed straight-driven four against Yo Mahesh. Handsome pulls against Kaushik and Mukund restored parity as the visitors survived another session without damage.
The inability to break the partnership was increasingly annoying the host bowlers. But they had to blame themselves. Against Mumbai, in the semi-final, they had bowled more attacking lengths. Today their failure to pitch on fuller lengths did not help their cause as Chopra and Saxena had ample time to make up their mind on a flat deck.
But the curator, too, needed to partake some of the blame. The fears about a weary pitch were realised with the final being the third match to be played on the surface in the last month. The biggest disadvantage to the bowler, more than the pace of the track, was the low bounce, which did not facilitate each time the bowlers found any movement. Incidentally, the pitch had got the approval of Venkat Sundaram, the BCCI's head of the pitch and grounds committee, who paid a visit to the ground couple of days before the match. Saxena took advantage by playing the reverse-sweep against Srinivas.
In the second over after the new ball was taken, Saxena went chasing a full delivery pitched outside off and moving away from Balaji. Saxena was stuck on 97 for 10 deliveries and it was a rare moment of distraction. The bat hit the ground even as the ball zipped past the outside edge, forcing a loud and desperate appeal. The umpire did not approve. Next ball, Saxena clipped the leg-side delivery for four to celebrate his 10th first-class century.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
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