Will Tamil Nadu stop Rajasthan's dream run?
January 3-6, Jaipur
Start time 09.30 (04.30 GMT)
The Big Picture
Stories of underdogs are always fun. Rajasthan, who finished at the bottom of the Plate league last year, shoved out the 39-time Ranji champions Mumbai to reach the semi-finals. Tamil Nadu have almost quietly sneaked into the semis. They played mostly at home where several games were rain-affected and in the quarters, it was bad light that left their opposition Haryana high and dry. This is not to say that Tamil Nadu have entered the final four through luck, but they certainly haven't marched their way here.
Rajasthan chose Aakash Chopra and Hrishikesh Kanitkar as their professional players and have not been let down. Kanitkar, who hadn't hit a first-class hundred since the 2006-07 season, was chosen as the captain this year and he responded with three centuries. Chopra, who only made 65 runs from four first-class games last season, hit two hundreds this season, including a triple-ton. The third professional, Rashmi Parida, was the third-highest scorer in the league stages and under the watchful eyes of the seniors, the local Rajasthan players have blossomed. Ashok Menaria, the former Under-19 captain, came in and hit a hundred in the quarters and Vineet Saxena, an experienced player, hit a big ton against Mumbai.
It's their seamers who have really set them up this season, though. Pankaj Singh (39 wickets) and Deepak Chahar (32), the new-ball bowlers, have been potent and Vivek Yadav, the quickish legspinner, hasn't had much to do and has picked up 12 wickets.
For Tamil Nadu, S Badrinath (747 runs) and Abhinav Mukund (573 runs) have piled up the runs and the rest were beginning to join the party. The captain Dinesh Karthik, who had a horror season prior to the quarters - 115 runs from seven games, made a vital 57 in a pressure situation against Haryana. R Sathish hit a fine hundred in the same game to ensure Tamil Nadu didn't lose in the quarters. Most of their games were played on slow surfaces and it shows in the stats: The seamers L Balaji and S Sam have picked up only 20 wickets while the spinners - R Ashwin, Aushik Srinivas and Suresh Kumar - have done the job. However, Tamil Nadu won't have the services of their top wicket-taker Ashwin, away on national duty, and will depend on Suresh and Srinivas to step up and deliver.
Watch out for...
Aakash Chopra hit 301 in the final league game to lift Rajasthan out of the Plate league and didn't contribute big in the semis as he fell to a rough lbw decision. He was very disappointed that he couldn't contribute in that crunch game and will be a determined to turn it on here.
S Badrinath sits at the top of the batting charts for this season with three hundreds and three fifties. He has the patience, the skill, and the hunger to keep scoring those runs, and the domestic run machine will be keen to prove his worth again.
Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar have been the best in the business this season. Over the last two years, Pankaj, whose stock delivery is the away-going one, has added the incoming ball to his arsenal and reaped rewards. Chahar burst on the scene this season with a rich haul in his debut game and has impressed the onlookers with his ability to swing the ball.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch looks dry but there has been some rain in the past few days. Chopra says he is not entirely sure how it will play.
Rajasthan: 1 Aakash Chopra, 2 Vineet Saxena, 3 Hrishikesh Kanitkar(capt), 4 Robin Bist, 5 Rashmi Parida, 6 Ashok Menaria, 7 Vivek Yadav, 8 Pankaj Singh, 9 Rohit Jhalani (wk), 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Sumit Mathur
Tamil Nadu: 1 Abhinav Mukund, 2 Arun Karthik, 3 S Badrinath, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 K Vasudevadas, 6 R Sathish, 7 C Ganapathy, 8 L Balaji, 9 Suresh Kumar, 10 S Sam, 11 Aushik Srinivas
Stats and trivia
- Badrinath has hit 15 first-class hundreds in the last four seasons
- Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have played each other three times in Ranji Trophy. Both teams have won one game
"We might seem stronger in the seam department but Tamil Nadu are a good team. They had many rain-affected games but they obviously have done a lot of things right to reach here. We are confident of putting on a good show"
Chopra is cautiously optimistic
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo