Opening stand was the key for Rajasthan - Chopra
Solidity against pace during an 181-run opening partnership and positive batting against spin to up the scoring rate helped Rajasthan gain the advantage on the opening day of the semi-final, Aakash Chopra, their opener, has said. Chopra batted determinedly to make an unbeaten 115 in conditions that offered plenty of assistance to the Tamil Nadu bowlers, and was well supported by Vineet Saxena as Rajasthan finished the day on 236 for 1.
"We were not surprised when we were put in to bat, but we applied ourselves well," Chopra told ESPNcricinfo. "We had a huge opening partnership and that really deflates the opposition. Once we got settled in, we tried to just continue for as long as possible."
In overcast conditions at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, with moisture on the pitch, there was swing and movement on offer for Tamil Nadu's four-pronged pace attack. "L Balaji bowled very well, he bowled in the right areas consistently. So did C Ganapathy to start with. They bowled tightly and in the right areas, and both were quite effective. It's just that they couldn't really get a breakthrough and that's what put us on the front foot. But there wasn't a dull moment when the fast bowlers were on.
"And it wasn't just the movement. The ball wasn't really coming on to the bat and it got better once the day progressed."
The good bounce in the pitch as well as the movement on offer meant Chopra had to be very conservative in his shot selection. He left a number of balls bowled in the channel outside off. "When the bounce is good and the ball is carrying to the keeper, you need to be very sure about where your off stump is. That's what happens when you are batting well."
The seamers shared 59 overs today and conceded runs at just above two an over. The circumspect approach against the seamers had to be compensated with a bit of aggression against the slow bowlers. The Rajasthan openers targeted Suresh Kumar, who went for 81 in 21 overs.
"On a track like this, you need to score runs against the spinners. That's because the fast bowlers are not going to give you anything. There wasn't much in the track for the spinners today. So that was the reason why we tried to up the ante against their only offspinner, and were successful."
Chopra praised his opening partner Saxena, whose 72 followed up a decisive century against Mumbai in the quarter-final. "He's batted well throughout this season. He is someone who provides solidity at the top, his batting suits the longer format of the game, he'll leave the ball, he knows his strengths and he sticks to them."
Rajasthan qualified for the semi-final based on a first-innings lead against Mumbai, and Chopra said batting big was the way to go in the ongoing contest. "We need to be very cautious to start with, the second new ball is only a few overs old. We'll need to see off the first hour, or hour-and-a-half. We need to bat for as long as possible and put them under pressure."
Rajasthan captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar sustained an injury when he was struck on the pads off an inside edge and had to retire hurt, but Chopra was confident he would be able to bat on the second day.
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at Cricinfo