Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo
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Aakash Chopra, who is batting on a career-best 262 in the Ranji Plate semi-final against Maharashtra, called it his most satisfying knock this season. Rajasthan reached a strong 551 for 6 at the end of the second day after being put into bat at Nasik.
Chopra, who played 12 years for Delhi before shifting this season, said that he felt more pressure playing as a professional cricketer for Rajasthan, and was happy that he could contribute in the semi-final. "It's a different ball game as a professional; there is a lot more pressure on you to perform," Chopra told ESPNCricinfo. "You are the main player. The youngsters look up to you for guidance and you have to stand up and be counted. Luckily, for us, we have Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Rashmi Parida and all of us professionals have done well so far."
This will probably be the first time that Chopra, whose previous highest first-class score was 239*, would go to sleep thinking about a possible 300. However he said he wasn't sure how long Rajasthan would bat tomorrow. "We have to declare at some point and bowl them out to gain points for the first-innings lead. We are yet to discuss when to declare. I think we will bat for a while but not sure how long. I have a few double hundreds but yes, this could be the first chance for 300."
Chopra was delighted with the timing of his knock. "More than the amount of runs, the fact that I scored in a semi-final is what gives me great pleasure. This is the game that actually decides whether we go on to the finals, and Super League, or remain in Plate."
Though the scoreline might hint at a placid track and raise questions over Maharashtra's decision to bowl first, Chopra said that Rajasthan also would have opted to field had they won the toss. "There was enough moisture on the track which was very darkish in colour. So there was no surprise that they made us bat."
It was obvious then that the first session would be the most crucial, and much depended on Chopra to provide a good start. "We were just biding time in the first session yesterday. There was enough sideways movement along with bounce because of red soil. I opened up in the second and hit around 75-80 runs. It was my most free-flowing phase in the last two days; I also hit a few sixes, which helped."
Maharashtra's woes were compounded by their bowling and wicketkeeping errors; they have conceded 74 extras that included 33 byes and 25 no-balls. "It was indeed bizarre," Chopra said. "Rohit Motwani [Maharashtra's captain and keeper] is a pretty decent keeper actually. What's happening is that the ball here is moving late and a lot after it passes the batsmen. And it's also dipping on the keeper." The current record lies with Railways who gave away 89 extras against Tamil Nadu in 1998-99.
Chopra was confident of gaining the vital lead. "The track is showing signs of deterioration; there is bounce and a little movement. Also, you have to consider the pressure of this large total. We are confident of bowling them out and getting that lead."