Tamil Nadu came within five runs of pulling off an amazing heist in their Ranji Trophy match against Haryana at the Chidambaram Stadium. M Vijay, who bludgeoned 42 off 19 deliveries, hailed Tamil Nadu's "never-say-die" spirit after they nearly hunted down a target of 146 in 13 overs on a track he described as "turning" and "two-paced".
That chase came on the back of a career-best 6 for 47 from fast bowler Yo Mahesh which opened up the slim possibility of a result in the game by knocking over Haryana for 200, after they had been 114 for 0 midway through the first session.
"It's an unbelievable team effort, being a part of this game was an honour," Vijay told ESPNcricinfo. "It was a great experience, and to do so well in what is basically our first match of the tournament (their first round Ranji match was almost entirely rained out) gives us a lot of confidence."
Tamil Nadu's strong showings in recent years has been due to their formidable batting unit, which includes the likes of Vijay, Abhinav Mukund and Dinesh Karthik but Vijay said he was initially uncertain about the possibility of winning the game. "I never really thought 146 in 13 overs was chaseable," he said, "but then Dinesh gave us the sort of start we needed."
Karthik provided the early momentum during the course of a 32-ball 55, but Vijay says the belief began to grow after Haryana captain Amit Mishra was taken for 27 runs in the ninth over. Karthik started the over with a six, before Vijay hammered three more to propel Tamil Nadu to 99 for 3 - 47 adrift with four overs to go. "Me and Dinesh just wanted to stay there, we knew we could clear the boundaries, so we just decided to back our instincts and go for the shots."
Tamil Nadu lost two wickets, including that of Karthik, in the next two overs, leaving any chance of a victory in Vijay's hands. "We needed 23 in the final two overs. I knew if I stayed till the end we could chase it down." It boiled down to six off the final three deliveries, but Mahesh fell lbw to medium-pacer Sachin Rana, before Vijay was run out trying to get the strike for the final delivery. That left No. 10 Baba Aparajith needing to hit a six off the final ball, much like his team-mate Arun Karthik did in the Champions League Twenty20 last month for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but he could only get a single, and Tamil Nadu ended on 141 for 8.
Vijay said the finale was a great "adrenaline rush" but rued that Tamil Nadu could not get the five points they wanted, and had to settle for the three they get for a first-innings lead. "The real pleasure would have been if we won, but the match was a great learning experience for the entire team." He praised L Balaji's leadership, particularly in the morning when a dull draw seemed the most likely result. "All the credit has to go Bala. He kept pushing us, telling us to go for as many wickets as we could," Vijay said. "He told us to not get desperate for wickets, and to just give it a try. We hung in there and things started to happen."
Balaji and Tamil Nadu's decision to attempt an improbable chase is even more noteworthy as it comes a week after Goa captain Swapnil Asnodkar decided to back out of a pursuit of 130 in about 20 overs, a decision for which he was dropped for two matches.