It's been a dream campaign for Rajasthan, emerging from the Plate League to all but go past the defending champions Mumbai and book their place in a Ranji Trophy semi-final for the first time in 25 years. "It's a huge thing for Rajasthan, to all those players who've been associated with Rajasthan for such a long time," Aakash Chopra, the former Delhi and now Rajasthan opener, told ESPNcricinfo.
A determined batting performance from Rajasthan has given them a big first-innings lead, but did the conditions play any role in the contrasting performances of the two teams? "Not at all," Chopra said. "It was a good wicket to bat on on day one as well. That's why Mumbai won the toss and decided to bat. It goes on to show that they also thought the track was dry. There is a grass covering but the grass is basically brown, and it's there to hold the track more than anything else. So there wasn't any exaggerated sideways movement or movement in the air. There were no demons in the track. It's more about the way we have played our cricket and how Mumbai have played their cricket."
The chief architect of Mumbai's collapse in the first innings was seamer Pankaj Singh, whose six wickets set the game up for Rajasthan. His victims included the Mumbai openers and one of their most successful batsmen this season, Rohit Sharma, each of the three either bowled or lbw.
"Pankaj, throughout the season, has been bowling his heart out, running in hard and bowling in the right areas with good pace," Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the Rajasthan captain and their highest run-getter this season, said. "And he's never given up and it's solely his hard work that is helping him."
The approach adopted by the Mumbai batsmen also worsened their prospects, Chopra added. "The Mumbai batsmen were flamboyant, going after the bowling and perhaps played into Pankaj Singh's hands because he bowled a probing line, asked the right questions and they didn't apply themselves as well as they would have liked.
"They were bowled out for 252, not a par-score for this track. We had thought, considering their depth in the batting line-up, of chasing a score of something like a minimum of 450."
Rajasthan's unbeaten run this tournament - although a nominal fourth day in the quarter-final still remains - owes, in large part, to a collective effort and consistency in implementing their strategies. "The teamwork has been the highlight," Kanitkar said. "We've really stressed on that in all our meetings and practice sessions. Throughout this season, in each game, we've had sets of players step up, which has helped us succeed consistently."
A committed plan to make the most effective use of their bowling resources and extract as much assistance from the tail with the bat made this success possible, Chopra said. "As far as our bowling is concerned, we've tried to swing the ball all the way." And the ploy's worked, with seamers Pankaj and Deepak Chahar splitting 63 wickets in six games. "That's where our strength lies. We've tried to pitch the ball up, maintained a good aggressive line of attack. We may not have been the most economical side in the competition but we've created enough chances. For our batting, we had decided to have a set batsman batting right till the end and in most of the games we had one pure batsman batting with the tail."
"It's just one of those things where we bowled really well, a disciplined line and length and continued to get wickets," Kanitkar said. "Mumbai have batted well throughout this season, but our discipline paid off."
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at Cricinfo