S Badrinath remains the biggest obstacle facing Rajasthan in their attempt to reach the Ranji Trophy final for the first time since the 1973-74 season, Aakash Chopra, their opener, has said. Badrinath was unbeaten on 78 at the end of the third day in the semi-final in Jaipur and is key to Tamil Nadu's fortunes as they aim - they are currently 190 for 3 - to score a further 272 within the full quota of 90 overs to advance to the next stage based on net run-rate.
"We need to remove Badrinath as early as possible," Chopra told ESPNcricinfo. "If that doesn't happen, we need to go all-out at the other end because we need to bowl them out." Rajasthan, thanks to three centuries, including one from Chopra on the opening day, managed to pile on 552 for 7 before declaring.
But on a track that has eased out since an overcast first day, and with Tamil Nadu batting out 69 overs on the third, Chopra believed there was little to choose between the teams. "The match is evenly poised. I won't give any team an edge at this point of time because the fourth-day pitch will still do something, though they require 270-odd in 90 overs.
"Chasing such a score in a semi-final on the last day won't be too easy. There will be wickets falling at some stage, and once you have a couple of wickets, things might change drastically."
Badrinath, during his innings, did survive some anxious moments and Chopra praised his bowlers for creating them. "Our bowlers really bowled well today, they bowled their hearts out. They were unfortunate to not have got a couple of more wickets, there were a couple of close calls."
The seamers, led by Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar, have been Rajasthan's main strength through their campaign this season, and Chopra felt there was still enough in the conditions to assist them on the final day. "The track has eased out a bit but every now and then the ball keeps alarmingly low, and that's what may cause problems. The uneven bounce will play on the batsmen's minds. The second-new ball is due in another 11 overs so that might play a huge role in the outcome of this game."
Rajasthan are playing Vivek Yadav, a legspinner, as their frontline slow bowler, but Chopra believed, even on a final-day track, his role would be a supporting one. "For spinners, there's nothing much happening except the variable bounce. There isn't much turn on offer but that's what happens on black soil.
"Yadav bowls quicker through the air, with a flatter trajectory and relies on the batsman making a judgement error. That's what his role is going to be - to give the seamers some breather because they are the ones going to do most of the damage, and to make the variable bounce work in his favour."
With a depleted Baroda upsetting Karnataka in the other semi-final, Rajasthan's progression, if it happens, would set up a final clash between two underdogs. The incentive of a continuing their dream campaign was too huge for Rajasthan to let it slip on the final day, Chopra said. "What is going to work in our favour is the intensity. The hunger that we all have to get to the next round, if we manage to replicate the intensity that we showed today on the final day as well, I think Tamil Nadu will buckle down."
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at Cricinfo