Saxena double puts Rajasthan in command

Cricket Ranji Trophy final: Sluggish surface blunts TNs edge

For the second consecutive day, the cricket bordered on the tedious. The sluggish surface at the MA Chidambaram stadium played its part, but contributing equally to the laborious exercise was the approach of the defending champions.

Rajasthan’s batting is based on incredible patience and discipline. It’s an approach that can be fraught with danger, because there seldom is a direct correlation between time spent at the crease and runs accrued on the board.

The holders, however, have executed their game plan with tremendous élan – even if the batting has been singularly devoid of that attribute – in the final of the Ranji Trophy, driving hosts Tamil Nadu up the wall at the conclusion of the second day’s play.

Only 183 runs were painstakingly stitched together in 90 overs as Rajasthan, overnight 221 without loss, kicked on to reach 404 for two on the back of a marathon exhibition of impeccable temperament, endurance, stamina and single-mindedness by opener Vineet Saxena (207 n.o., 747m, 555b, 25x4, 1x6).

The 31-year-old became only the 20th batsman to make a double hundred in the Ranji final, defying the Tamil Nadu attack with a broad blade and a huge heart. His effort didn’t make for pretty viewing, but then again, there wasn’t anyone watching, was there?

No more than a hundred spectators had turned up despite the gates being thrown open; further, this match is not being televised live. As a result, there was no demand on Rajasthan to entertain, but it’s unlikely that even had such a demand been placed, Hrishikesh Kanitkar’s men would have deviated from the norm.

Prolificity

National selectors Mohinder Amarnath and Narendra Hirwani had precious little to add to their data base except to stash away Saxena’s prolificity and young left-arm spinner R Aushik Srinivas’ guile and accuracy in the back of their minds. Neither individual would have particularly enjoyed the day’s skirmishes, but Rajasthan are here to win a final, not hearts or friends.

Saxena best exemplifies the Rajasthan approach, based around building an innings brick by brick and occupying the crease for long hours without being flustered by a static scoreboard. This is the method that has worked wonders for Rajasthan for two seasons now, and they saw no reason not to stick with it. Consequently, they have put runs on the board, however slowly, and on a track that is increasingly playing up and down and that should bring the spinners into play more tellingly from Saturday, they have already necessitated Tamil Nadu to play out of their skins.
Undisputed hero

Whilst Saxena was the undisputed hero of the day, no praise can be too high for the 18-year-old Aushik, who has already sent down a whopping 61 overs. On Thursday, he had bowled outside the line of the stumps and looked no more than a distant threat.

With a little help from former TN coach Woorkeri Raman, he attacked the stumps more on day two, was a dangerous proposition right through the day, distinctly unlucky not to pick up more than just Aakash Chopra’s scalp, which came off the teenager’s first delivery on a day when he had figures of 31-12-50-1.

Overnight 86, Chopra had snailed his way to 94 when he was trapped in front by Aushik with a delivery that stayed a touch low and defeated the batsman’s whip to leg. It terminated an opening salvo of 236 (440m, 307b, 9x4), but Tamil Nadu’s joy was shortlived as Kanitkar joined Saxena in another three-figure association.

The Rajasthan captain could have been dismissed anytime during his first 30 minutes at the crease, but once he survived the Aushik test, he batted with refreshing positivity. The brightest phase of the day came in the two hours after lunch when 90 runs were scored in 29 overs – the first session yielded 51 in 36, the last 42 in 25 – as Kanitkar played his strokes with abandon. Offie Sunny Gupta had him well caught by Dinesh Kaarthick off a delivery that spat and turned, merely exemplifying the magnitude of task ahead of Tamil Nadu’s batsmen on a wearing track.

score board

RAJASTHAN (I Innings, O/n: 221/0): Aakash Chopra lbw Aushik 94 (440m, 307b, 9x4), Vineet Saxena (batting) 207 (747m, 555b, 25x4. 1x6), Hrishikesh Kanitkar c Kaarthick b Gupta 67 (208m, 146b, 6x4), Robin Bist (batting) 16 (97m, 74b, 3x4). Extras (B-9, LB-6, W-2, NB-3) 20. Total (for
2 wkts, 180 overs) 404.

Fall of wickets: 1-236 (Chopra), 2-362 (Kanitkar).

Bowling: L Balaji 24-9-58-0 (nb-3), J Kaushik 33-12-44-0, V Yomahesh 26-6-71-0 (w-2), R Aushik Srinivas 61-23-105-1, Sunny Gupta 30-5-82-1, Abhinav Mukund 2-0-6-0, K Vasudeva Das 1-0-5-0, M Vijay 3-0-18-0.

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