Rajasthan enter final despite Badrinath's heroics
Rajasthan 552 for 7 decl (Chopra 139, Menaria 106, Kanitkar 100*) drew with Tamil Nadu 385 (Badrinath 175) and 2 for 0
Rajasthan's dream is still alive. They couldn't dislodge Tamil Nadu's wall, S Badrinath, but dismantled the rest brick by brick to enter their first Ranji final since the 1973-74 season. The seamers, Pankaj Singh, Deepak Chahar and Sumit Mathur, sparkled on a docile track to apply the squeeze, and the legspinner Vivek Yadav ran through the lower order to shove Tamil Nadu out of the competition. Tamil Nadu, if they didn't get bowled out, had to score 272 runs in 90 overs on the final day to go through based on net run-rate but they were shot out in the last session.
For 10 hours and five minutes, Badrinath resisted everything hurled at him: outswingers, inswingers, bouncers, leg breaks, sliders, sledges, official warning from the umpire for repeatedly pulling out of strike, his team-mates' self-destructive ways, and his opponent's determined resolve. They couldn't out him at all but Rajasthan found a way around him to achieve their dream.
There was nothing in the pitch but the seamers created venom in the air to do the job. The 18-year old Chahar, playing his debut season, swung the ball both ways, Pankaj mixed his outswingers with the nip-backers, the balding Mathur punctuated his probing line around off stump with bouncers and Yadav flung in his quickish legbreaks and sliders to hustle Tamil Nadu.
It was a fascinating day's play. You could feel the pressure Tamil Nadu were under, and you could sense the intense desire and ambition of their opponents. Badrinath v Rajasthan was a riveting battle. Like yesterday, the bowlers complained to the umpires that Badrinath was not ready when they were ready to bowl. Like yesterday, the umpires chastened Badrinath. "The moment the bowler turns around, you have to be ready," Hariharan told Badrinath. "This is the last friendly warning." A visibly agitated Pankaj had a few words to say. Badrinath moved away again a short while later, as Mathur released the ball, and was handed his official warning. The heat was truly on. If it affected him, Badrinath didn't show it and knuckled down further but he was let down by his team-mates.
R Sathish, who had come in after the overnight batsman K Vasudevadas had inside-edged an outswinger on to his stumps, did all the hard work before throwing his wicket away. Chahar had him in a tangle- the big inswingers repeatedly rapped him on the pad and the outswingers kept teasing the outside edge- but Sathish fought on grittily. Every time he was beaten, he looked at Badrinath and flashed a smile. The pair saw through the first session but the self-destruction set in the second. Sathish went for a flamboyant on-the-up drive off Mathur but hit it straight to short extra cover to leave Tamil Nadu wobbling at 283 for 5.
It was in these kind of big moments that Tamil Nadu have choked in the past and more brain freeze was in store today. C Ganapathy, promoted ahead of Suresh Kumar, was peppered by bouncers from Mathur and threw his wicket away by pulling one straight to deep square-leg. Suresh Kumar hung around for a while and the pressure started to tell on everyone. When the score was 312, Badrinath charged down the track to Yadav and failed to connect but Rohit Jhalani fluffed a simple stumping. Yadav, though, kept chugging along and soon trapped Suresh Kumar lbw with a slider on the off stump line.
Enter L Balaji. He stuck adhesively to the crease for 76 minutes and was dropped on 14 by Jhalani but failed to connect with a sweep and fell lbw to Yadav. The No.10, R Suthesh, combusted spontaneously on arrival: He tried to slog Yadav and miscued it to mid-on and S Sam got into a mix-up with Badrinath and was run out by a direct hit by Robin Bist from deep midwicket to trigger celebrations in the Rajasthan camp. Badrinath trudged back in disappointment.
Rajasthan rubbed the salt into wounds by making Tamil Nadu follow-on and an over later it was all over. History was calling and the desert boys were all ears. Rajasthan now face Baroda in a final that not many would have predicted. It's been that kind of a season.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo