'Feels great but a long way to go' - Aakash Chopra
Mumbai all out 252. If it was any other team, Rajasthan would be deliriously happy but since it's Mumbai, who have won the Ranji Trophy 39 times, they are cautiously optimistic. "There is a long long way to go," says Aakash Chopra, Rajasthan's premier batsman, a sentiment shared by the wrecker-in-chief Pankaj Singh, who grabbed a five-wicket haul.
"It's a great position to be in at the end of the first day but we have to capitalise on it," Chopra said. "A slender lead won't help; we need to bat them out of the game. That's the only way to do it. It will need tremendous application and determination from our batsmen but the good thing is we, as a team, are desperate to do well. They have a good bowling unit and they know how to defend; it's going to be a fascinating second day's play."
Pankaj Singh harassed the Mumbai top order with an incisive spell. He knocked out opener Omkar Gaurav in his second over but it was his second spell that really rocked Mumbai. He removed Sahil Kukreja and Rohit Sharma with deliveries that seamed through the defences of the batsmen. Rohit's wicket, in particular, gave him the most joy. "I used to be a bowler that mostly took the ball away. I have worked hard in the last two years to get the ball back in and am now confident of moving the ball both ways. I took one away and he slashed it over gully. I pitched the next one fuller and moved it back in; he was late on the defence and it went through the gap to bowl him."
Chopra was effusive in his praise. "Pankaj bowled a superb line and troubled all the Mumbai batsmen. The seam position was brilliant. Remember, it's a strong and in-form batting line-up and he bowled his heart out. Rohit was late on his defensive stroke and the ball moved in to bowl him. Pankaj is our senior bowler and he stood up today."
Pankaj had good support from Deepak Chahar,who removed Ajinkya Rahane and Abhishek Nayyar, the only batsmen to cross 50, and from Sumit Mathur, who prised out the big wicket of Wasim Jaffer. "It was an offcutter and Jaffer was looking to work it to the on side but it sneaked through the bat and pad gap to clip the bail," Chopra said.
Mumbai were tottering at 116 for 5 but Rajasthan knew that they have the reputation of getting out of tough situations. "With Mumbai, you can't relax even if you take out their top order," Pankaj said. Chopra shared the feeling and believed the onus was on the seniors of the side to ensure that the youngsters didn't relax. "You have to reign in your emotions and make sure you don't think beyond the game and beyond yourself as that's what leads to your destruction. Only the 10 and 11 don't bat; you can never get complacent and to the credit of the youngsters, no one did. Everyone knew the job wasn't over till it was over."
Pankaj believed his hard work over the last two years was paying off. "It's a great feeling. I knew at the start of the game that if I can do well against Mumbai the performance will count for something. I took 33 wickets before this game (the highest by any bowler, in Super and Plate league, this season) but people might say, 'Oh, he has taken those in the Plate league; it doesn't count. I was highly motivated. And to take five wickets, and that too after they chose to bat, gives me great satisfaction."
Chopra, who hit a triple ton in the last game, was understandably cautious when asked about his thoughts on how the game would pan out. "My gut feel? Well, let's leave it to me," he said with a laugh. "I don't want to make my gut feel public. Let's just wait and see how the game unfolds."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo