Rajasthan were hungrier than Baroda for victory, and that was the reason they won the Ranji Trophy for the first time, according to their captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar. "We wanted this victory more," he said at the end of the game. "And we were willing to do whatever it took."
Rajasthan's self-belief was tested the most when they were reduced to 11 for 3 in their second innings, leading only by 44. They then slipped to 61 for 4, and another wicket could have meant a sub-200 target for Baroda. Rajasthan teams of the past have been prone to folding up. But Kanitkar said they were prepared to defend anything their batsmen gave them.
"Yes, Rajasthan have had a reputation for collapsing. The match was pretty open at 11 for 3," he said. "We thought that it could be possible that we might get a lead of only 150. But we decided even if that happened, we would defend it. At no point did we think that it had gone out of our hands."
Though Baroda's bowlers were in control, and the pressure of the final was immense, Kanitkar said keeping the belief as a team was the most crucial factor. "We knew we were capable, but it doesn't come off right always. Now maybe I can sit back and say that we knew it all and stuff like that, but that was not the case. But you have to keep the faith, and if you do that there is a chance that things will work out. Keeping the faith as an individual is one thing, but as a team is even more important."
Rajasthan needed some luck, and they got it when Ashok Menaria was dropped twice in successive overs. If either catch had been taken, the visitors would have been barely 100 runs in front with half the side gone. But Menaria survived, and along with Rashmi Parida, took the game away from Baroda. "You know, luck also favours those who try the hardest. And we knew that we were going to try the hardest. That made the difference."
It was Rajasthan's first Ranji final since 1974, but Kanitkar said that they tried to approach it like a normal game. "We respected the fact that it is a Ranji final, but I told the boys not to think about the opposition and the result. Just play how you have played throughout the season, I said, and I think we were able to do that. When things were needed of us, people delivered, it didn't matter who delivered, but someone did. In the first innings Robin Bist and I got a few runs. In the second innings, Menaria got a brilliant century. Rashmi Parida was just unbelievable throughout the game."
After overcoming heavyweights Mumbai and Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan had the momentum, and were expected to win the title against a young and inexperienced Baroda side. Kanitkar had intentionally played things down before the start of the game, so that no one got complacent. "It is easy to think that we were expected to win against Baroda. That's where the experience came into play. The three professionals - Aakash Chopra, Parida and I - kept a low profile and did not let the pressure of a Ranji final get to the guys." They succeeded and sealed their maiden title in their ninth appearance in the final.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo