Was it Rajasthan's deep desire to win the semi-final against Tamil Nadu that turned the tables, or was it the latter's lack of caution that cost them the game? While the analysis is on, here's how the story unfolded on the pitch.
Tamil Nadu won an all important toss against us, Rajasthan, and were obviously gung-ho about their prospects of storming into the finals. After all, it was overcast, the track wore a black look (a sign of moisture underneath) and they had come prepared for exactly this. They had five quick bowlers in the squad, out of which four played in the final XI. As most teams would in their place, Tamil Nadu thought all they needed to do was to bowl the ball and the conditions would take care of the rest. Unfortunately for them, that's where they faltered.
Once they didn't get the expected initial breakthrough, they believed it was actually a flat track, which of course it was not. They had two choices at that point: the first, albeit the tough one, was to put their heart and soul into their bowling effort; the second, the easier one, was to go on the defensive with field placements which would not challenge the bowlers enough. Fortunately for us, they chose the latter and had fielders manning the boundaries as a cover for loose deliveries. We, on the contrary, being the smaller team, knew that the only way to win against Tamil Nadu was to bat them out of the game. And that needed application right from Nos. 1 to 11. We were prepared to grind it out the hard way and it worked for us.
But batting can only set up a game; it's the bowlers who win it for the team. When our turn came to bowl, our hunger to win the game came to the fore. The track had, as expected, eased out considerably in two days and was a good one to bat on by then. Tamil Nadu had a good batting line-up and we had to split 160 overs between four bowlers, for we didn't play the extra bowler. And what made it even more challenging was the fact that three out of our four bowlers were seam bowlers, which meant pushing the limits, both physically and mentally.
Our bowlers bowled their hearts out but that's not exceptional. "You must go that extra yard if you want to play the finals," one may argue. While I concede the claim, one can still push humans only so much. The game hung in the balance for a long time, largely thanks to S Badrinath's stupendous knock. But as the end came closer, the real character of individuals also came to the fore. At one end Badri remained unflustered and was prepared to go all the way, while the others around him got too impatient and went for broke.
The match, would you believe, was decided in the 10-over spell after tea on the fourth day. As a batting unit, you're almost sure that the bowlers will throw in the towel after 130 overs of hard grind and bowl a few loose deliveries. But when they got none of it for 10 consecutive overs, they had to do something different and that's when we kicked in.
This aspect of four-day cricket excites me the most - you have to win so many mini-battles within the big battle to succeed. Often it's not one ball or a wicket which changes the complexion of the game but the sustained effort of one team over a long period of time.
Now that we, Rajasthan, have crossed that hurdle. We will, once again, give our heart and soul to play with all we have against Baroda in the final.