Well begun is half done. Openers Aakash Chopra and Vineet Saxena walked back undefeated after three sessions under the heat and humidity here on Thursday. The rate of scoring might not have pleased a small gathering but Rajasthan had made significant progress by stumps.
In an era where fears of the game's abbreviated form adversely impacting the technique and temperament of players for cricket's longer format loom, the two like-minded Rajasthan batsmen displayed an immaculate defence and old-fashioned application.
Not a single wicket fell on the first day of the Ranji Trophy final at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. Defending champion Rajasthan progressed to 221 without loss after winning what could turn out to be a crucial toss.
Saxena (120 batting, 269b, 16x4) and Chopra (86 batting, 273b, 10x4) made the Tamil Nadu attack toil on a track that became slow after offering some carry in the first session.
The opening duo largely played in the ‘V', collected singles and when the frustrated home bowlers were forced to shorten their length, cut and pulled. The ‘waiting game' worked.
A forgettable day for Tamil Nadu was made worse when batting mainstay Abhinav Mukund had to hobble off the field after injuring himself while attempting to prevent a boundary soon after tea. Mukund has a swelling on his right hip. Another specialist batsman Shri Vasudevadas left the area in the final session with a back spasm.
Rajasthan's game-plan was clear – bat as long as possible, put a 500 plus total on the board and then apply pressure on the batting side on a pitch that might deteriorate. Chopra is an old soldier. The opener endured a moment of concern in the morning when he missed a pull and was hit under the left eye by a lifting delivery from paceman J. Kaushik. He settled down and an off-drive off Yomahesh was a shot of poise and timing.
Saxena appears to have imbibed much from Chopra's technique. The bat and pad were close together as he went forward in defence. He was sure-footed while driving the pacemen and cut with panache.
And when left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas bowled over the wicket, he countered the ploy by reverse-sweeping the bowler. It was baffling why Srinivas was made to try this negative line on the first day of the match. Srinivas bowled much better from round the wicket even if his bowling lacked deception in flight. Tamil Nadu worked to a definite ploy when the silly point was moved to short-leg to get the batsman to play more freely on the off-side and nick one turning away to either the ‘keeper or the slip. Chopra all but edged once.
The pacemen were able to contain but should have bowled a fuller length to snare the batsmen with swing. There were occasions when the length was predictable.
Chopra has a slice of fortune though. He could have departed on 47 but R. Prasanna could not latch on to a sharp chance in the close-in cordon. Srinivas was the bowler to suffer.
Off-spinner Sunny Gupta retained his spot but spells of 6-0-18-0, 2-0-8-0 and 5-1-14-0 did not quite reflect the skipper's confidence in him. If Gupta is in the side as a specialist spinner then he should be given longer spells. The day's final stretch belonged to Saxena. The compact batsman flicked Balaji to reach his hundred. There was hardly any reverse swing for the pacemen and the second new ball was taken. Saxena responded with a few scintillating cuts.
This also meant the Tamil Nadu pacemen were erring in length.
The scores: Rajasthan — 1st innings: A. Chopra (batting) 86, V. Saxena (batting) 120, Extras (b-5, lb-5, nb-3, w-2): 15, Total (for no loss in 90 overs): 221.
Tamil Nadu bowling: Balaji 13-7-33-0, Kaushik 18-6-30-0, Yomahesh 13-2-42-0, Srinivas 30-11-55-0, Gupta 13-1-40-0, Mukund 2-0-6-0, Vasudeva Das 1-0-5-0.
Keywords: Ranji trophy