Chopra ton puts Rajasthan in command
Rajasthan 236 for 1( Chopra115*, Saxena 72) v Tamil Nadu
Around one hour into the game, after he chose to bowl, the Tamil Nadu captain Dinesh Karthik exhorted his bowlers to show Porumai (patience in Tamil). They waited all day long but could only dislodge Vineet Saxena, as Aakash Chopra propelled Rajasthan to a strong position at the end of the opening day. Tamil Nadu threw everything they had at Chopra but he was immovable.
It was a day of hard grind. It was a day where the batsmen had to work really hard, especially in the first two sessions, to overcome the conditions. It was damp, it was overcast and Rajasthan were asked to bat. Chopra and Saxena, however, stuck adhesively to the crease to slowly turn the tide against the visitors. The ball seamed around in the first half of the day but the duo showed exemplary patience to keep the bowlers at bay.
Chopra, who missed out on a big score in the quarter-final, oozed solidity and sported a big smile as he walked off the park at sun set. It wasn't his shot making but the way he left the ball outside off that elevated this knock. He knew where his off stump was and let the opposition know it, wearing them down with his technique. He punctuated his leaves with elegant cover drives whenever the bowlers pitched it fuller trying to make him play. He got going with a gorgeous cover drive on a bent knee against L Balaji and repeated the shot off C Ganapathy. Almost immediately, the seamers started to bowl short of a length and Chopra settled down with ease. He covered for the movement and repeatedly nudged and steered them behind the wicket.
Post-lunch, the seamers, R Suthesh and S Sam, bowled a stifling line and length but Chopra relied on his technique to break free. The feet movement was precise, the head was over the ball and he played late. Soon, Karthik had to bring in his spinner Suresh Kumar and Chopra used his feet effectively to pile on the runs. Time and again, he skipped down the track for his drives and cut when the length was shortened. The manner in which Chopra brought up his fifty captured his serene approach: He went down the track and realised that he had gone too far down to a full delivery from Suresh but adjusted superbly by crouching on a bent knee and steered it to past gully to the third man boundary. And it was apt that he brought up his hundred with his favourite cover drive.
Chopra didn't have to do all the hard work alone today as he found some great support from Saxena, who hit a big hundred against Mumbai in the quarter-final. Though he wasn't as assured as Chopra, Saxena buckled down to wear down the attack. He took 17 balls to get off the mark and was in some bother early on to the deliveries in the off-stump corridor. Balaji beat the bat a few times with his variations but Saxena soon settled down. He too left many a ball and unfurled off drives whenever the bowlers over pitched. He took more risks against the spinners: he smashed Suresh over midwicket boundary and lifted him to long-on to bring up his fifty.
Saxena's best shot, though, came against the left-arm seamer Suthesh when he unfurled a delightful, straight-driven boundary. Suresh, who saw Ganapathy fail to hold on to a swirling mis-hit when Saxena was on 47, got his man eventually when he turned one big to beat the attempted cover drive.
Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Rajasthan's captain, added to Tamil Nadu's woes by hitting a confident 28 with four boundaries. And just when all looked lost for the visitors, he inside-edged an off drive onto his boot and retired hurt. The injury, though, didn't look too serious and Kanitkar should return to bat tomorrow. Chopra saw through the day with the nightwatchman Vivek Yadav and left Tamil Nadu facing a night of discontent.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo