Rajasthan make inroads after scoring 621
Tamil Nadu 66 for 3 (Rituraj 2-27) trail Rajasthan 621 (Saxena 257, Chopra 94, Srinivas 4-192) by 555 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Defending champions Rajasthan were criticised for crawling during the first two days of the final in Chennai, their batsmen accused of playing slow and shoddy cricket. Their critics asked why Rajasthan were adopting an extremely safe approach on a pitch that was dead. Despite being faced with such questions, their batsmen stayed patient and determined, and amassed Rajasthan's second-highest total in the Ranji Trophy. Their best was the 641 for 7 against Maharashtra in Nasik in the 2010-11 Plate League semi-final.
Rajasthan's plan was to run Tamil Nadu ragged and then unleash their fresh fast-bowlers on tired batsmen. It worked, as the home side's top order made a quick exit. At 24 for 3, Tamil Nadu needed rescuing and the pair of Dinesh Karthik and K Vasudevadas remained steady to deny Rajasthan any more wickets.
Having been in the field for eight sessions, Tamil Nadu were mentally fragile at the start of their innings. Rajasthan's new-ball bowlers, who have destroyed every batting line-up in their previous four matches, were once again precise. Despite the slowness of the pitch, Pankaj Singh and Rituraj Singh did not compromise on pace and bowled fuller lengths.
Rituraj made the first breakthrough when he pitched a back-of-a-length delivery on middle stump and moved it in to Abhinav Mukund, who was caught in front of the wickets. Peter Hartley remained accurate in his decision-making and adjudged the batsman lbw.
At the other end Pankaj was his usual self, maintaining the same lines at varying lengths. He used his biggest advantage - his height - to extract bounce by hitting the seam. There was variable bounce and S Badrinath was once beaten by a delivery that skidded past at shin height. Badrinath soon erred while driving across the line and found himself plumb lbw to an incoming delivery.
M Vijay was the victim of a smart strategy. He had played fluent drives, and a clip off a fuller delivery from Rituraj that rushed to the midwicket boundary. Hrishikesh Kanitkar plugged the gap by moving Puneet Yadav from square leg to midwicket. On the penultimate delivery of that over, Rituraj hit a full length at slower pace and Vijay played pre-emptively, spooning a catch to Puneet. Tamil Nadu were 24 for 3 in ten overs; Rajasthan had been 221 for 0 after the first day, their go-slow tactics had come good.
Having watched the ease with which Rajasthan's Robin Bist scored in the morning, the Tamil Nadu batsmen went for their shots too early in their innings. The danger of such an approach was the risk of a casual stroke, which was also the cause of Bist's dismissal.
Bist had begun with a well-timed square cut against L Balaji in the second over of the morning. Though Balaji's wicket-to-wicket line and fuller length tested him, Bist put his wrists to good use. And when Aushik Srinivas, who began with a slip and silly point, attacked off stump, Bist played a wristy flick to the midwicket boundary.
He got to his fifty by glancing the offspinner Sunny Gupta in his first over. Just as he looked set for a bigger score, Bist flicked Gupta straight to Vasudevadas at square leg. He stood there stunned at his error. Not only he had forgotten his team's plans but also missed the chance to become only the 12th batsman to score 1000 runs in a Ranji season.
Bist's dismissal meant that Vineet Saxena, who had already batted two days, had to be extra vigilant to ensure Rajasthan did not slip further. Saxena had a difficult start to the day. In its seventh over, after facing 575 deliveries, Saxena gave his first chance, flashing with hard hands at a length delivery from J Kaushik. The outside edge flew straight at Vasudevadas' face at gully and he dropped a straightforward catch. Kaushik, wearing a wry smile on his sweat-stained face, just stood there.
Thereafter Saxena watched Bist dominate at the other end and was involved in his third century partnership of the innings. But having grafted for the first two days, Saxena was bolder in his approach today. He stepped out against Srinivas, hitting the second six of the match over long-on.
Immediately after lunch, though, Saxena leaned back to make room and push at a straight delivery from Srinivas. He was beaten for pace, had his off stump uprooted, and left without showing much emotion. In minutes, Saxena's 665-ball effort was 108 fewer than the longest innings in Ranji Trophy. Himachal Pradesh's captain Rajeev Nayyar had compiled 271 off 728 balls in 1015 minutes against Jammu & Kashmir in 1999-2000. Saxena's wicket was a reward for Srinivas' perseverance.
Puneet and Dishant Yagnik departed quickly as Rajasthan lost three wickets in 19 deliveries and were eventually dismissed for 621. Their batsmen had done their job, and Rituraj and Pankaj began theirs effectively as well.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo