Rajasthan seal lead, headed for title
Rajasthan 621 & 21 for 0 (Chopra10*, Saxena 10*) lead Tamil Nadu 295 (Karthik 150, Rituraj 4-76, Mathur 2-53, Pankaj 2-58) by 347 runs
Defending champions Rajasthan have virtually sealed the Ranji Trophy title, and are set to become only the fifth team to win the crown in successive years. They bowled Tamil Nadu out on the third day at Chepauk, securing a massive first-innings lead, which will be enough to see them pronounced winners. Taking advantage of the Tamil Nadu batsmen's fragile mindsets, over-eagerness to play attacking strokes and false shot selections, Rajasthan bundled out Tamil Nadu in 102.4 overs, less than half the overs the visitors had consumed during their first innings. Sitting on a 326-run lead, Rajasthan did not enforce the follow-on and finished the day 347 runs ahead.
The Tamil Nadu batsmen have only themselves to blame for the failure. After their top-order batsmen, M Vijay, Abhinav Mukund and S Badrinath, had perished playing across the line on Saturday, you would expect the rest of the batsmen to learn from those mistakes. They did not.
With a midwicket and short midwicket in place, K Vasudevadas decided to play, of all shots, an uppish flick to the leg side off Rituraj Singh. Vasudevadas had walked a yard out of his crease, indicating he had already made up his mind to play a stroke, and Gajendra Singh accepted the catch at midwicket.
Dinesh Karthik and R Prasanna stayed positive, taking advantage of the innocuous lines and lengths on offer from Rajasthan's change bowlers: Sumit Mathur and left-arm spinner Gajendra. Prasanna, who had scored a crucial century in the semi-final against Mumbai, swept Gajendra frequently. He was into the 40s in no time; the run-rate was three runs per over; and the partnership was worth 76.
Then, Karthik committed the worse mistake of the match.
He pushed Mathur towards mid-on, called for a single and set off quickly; but instead of running straight he ran across the pitch, into Prasanna's lane. Though the batsmen averted a collision, Prasanna, who did not help himself by ball-watching, had been slowed down. Karthik dived in at the non-striker's end, but the fielder, Rituraj, had missed the stumps by a long distance, and Dinesh Yagnik collected the wide throw and caught Prasanna short.
As he walked back, Prasanna slammed his bat into his pads in disgust. The best batting line-up in domestic cricket, containing several batsmen tipped to be future India players, was crumbling.
Karthik somewhat made up for his mistake by top-scoring for Tamil Nadu with 150. Having kept wickets for eight sessions, he knew the pitch was slow and waited for the ball to come on. After lunch, he square drove Pankaj Singh for four, and, when Pankaj went around the wicket and pitched fuller, cover drove for another boundary. Then, he stepped out against Rituraj and sent the ball sailing over long-on for the first six of the Tamil Nadu innings, bringing up 3000 runs in the Ranji Trophy with the shot. A tap behind square in the next over took Karthik to his third century of the season, and his second in a Ranji final.
Tamil Nadu lost two more wickets at the other end, and with the match slipping from their grasp, the hosts' frustration became apparent. Tamil Nadu's captain L Balaji, who looked solid in a 60-run partnership with Karthik, was adjudged lbw by umpire Vineet Kulkarni when there was a clear inside edge. Balaji was shocked by the decision, showed his bat to Kulkarni to indicate he had got an edge, and then threw his bat and gloves to the ground once he crossed the ropes.
Karthik remained unruffled and continued playing his strokes when Rajasthan took the second new ball. He scored most of his runs with aggressive shots through the off side and eventually fell inside edging an attempted drive off Mathur onto his stumps. J Kaushik hooked Mathur down fine-leg's throat to end the innings
Rajasthan, with the title all but secure, decided to bat again, and will tomorrow be able to celebrate having rattled a line-up as strong as Tamil Nadu's with the weight of big runs.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo