Orissa have never made it to a Ranji Trophy final. Almost a decade ago, they played Baroda for a place in the final at the GSFC Ground in Vadodara. Rashmi Parida made 94 and 71, but Orissa conceded a massive first-innings lead, and with it the semi-final. It took ten years and a different team for Parida to gain another shot at domestic glory. The opponent hasn't changed, but Parida is now a professional player for Rajasthan, and his twin half-centuries have put them on course for their first Ranji crown at the Moti Bagh Stadium in Vadodara.
Parida was understandably elated at the prospect of being able to win the premier domestic tournament for the first time. "That was the biggest match of my life then. And this is the biggest match now. It is very satisfying to play the final for the first time in my career," Parida said. "Last time, I could not help my team beat Baroda. This is another chance for me. It is a challenge, and I want to do it this time. If I can, it will be memorable for the rest of my life."
Rajasthan's batting has been bolstered by the presence of the three professionals - Aakash Chopra, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Parida - and they have hardly suffered a collapse this season. But they were stuttering today at 11 for 3, then 61 for 4, and all the hard work over nine matches was under danger of coming unstuck. But despite the early departure of Chopra and Kanitkar, Parida's calming presence in the middle was reassuring for Rajasthan. "I have to credit the Baroda bowlers for creating pressure. At that stage, our plan was to play out 10-15 overs and try to build a partnership of 30-40 runs, and then we would be back in the game. I did not add many with Robin Bist, but we tried to play ourselves in and tire out the bowlers."
Parida added 50 with Bist, but it was his unbeaten 140-run partnership with former India Under-19 captain Ashok Menaria that took the game away from Baroda. Menaria was the aggressor in the stand, and Parida advised him to play his natural game. "I always like to be aggressive. I was trying to be defensive initially, but that has never been my game, and I was getting a bit bogged down," Menaria said. "But Paddybhai told me that if you feel like going for your shots, just go for them."
And Menaria did. His assault on Bhargav Bhatt, whom he hit for three sixes in an over, emphatically swung the momentum in favour of the visitors. Menaria explained that he had planned the charge. "Actually Bhatt was bothering me since long. He was bowling consistently in the right areas, and there were close-in fielders. There was no one on the straight boundary; there was a deep midwicket I think. I thought that if I get it out of the middle of the bat, the ball would clear the ropes anyways. So I decided to hit out. After that the field spread and I was able to take runs easily."
There had been ecstatic celebrations in the Rajasthan camp after they had taken the first-innings lead earlier today, but both Parida and Menaria felt the match was not over yet. "The game is still open, and anything can happen on the last day," Menaria said. According to Parida, Rajasthan's plan will be to bat till lunch tomorrow, and take it from there. In their ninth attempt, Rajasthan will hope to finish on the winning side in the final for the first time.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo