By Sidhanta Patnaik
Chennai: Jan 19, 2012
The strip was devoid of any moisture, the grass was hardly a factor, and the weather was typically Chennai-dry. The tailor made conditions for batting suited Aakash Chopra and Vineet Saxena, the two Rajasthan openers who showed two English British Airways pilots who were among the audience, on their day off, at the first day of the 2011-2012 Ranji Trophy final between Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu at M.A. Chidambaram stadium that despite what the world media is writing about BCCI’s (Board for Control of Cricket in India) overemphasis on Twenty20 cricket there still is space and respect for good old school of batting in India.
The talks about Tamil Nadu’s new found gist and home advantage over Rajasthan were negated the moment Hrishikesh Kanitkar won the toss and elected to bat first. The openers got off to a flying start when Chopra clipped the first ball of the match to the square leg fence for a boundary. The first over from home team skipper Laximpathy Balaji fetched 17 runs including three boundaries and like any big match where the difference of technical calibre between two teams is negligible it was about that initial thrust that set the day’s pattern.
The confidence boosting start allowed the openers the luxury of getting their eye in as the next five overs produced just a single run. From then on the duo dictated the day’s term. Both Saxena and Chopra turned the pages of batting technique as ball after ball was met with confidence and a manner of straightness.
It was an absolute challenge for the seamers to extract any benefit out of the track and the variations of the spinners was insufficient to distract the openers. With every passing session taking a wicket looked like a job unattainable and with it grew the desperation and sarcasm of the sizeable home crowd. Except for that one short ball early in Chopra’s innings-to which he committed early for it to penetrate through the visor and leave a cut below his eyes-for the rest of the day the ball befriended the middle of the bat and willing followed the directions of the ground as guided by the willow holders.
The grind drained the home team of its fuel and much before the new ball was available the passage had become one sided. That Chopra rose from the jolt to dig deep into his reserves without any signs of failure of temperament indicates the mental strength of one of the best opener’s in Indian domestic cricket for more than a decade now.
On the other end Saxena was as solid as a rock and as safe as a house. There was one outside edge that fell way short of the cordon but that was the nearest he got to performing a blemish today. The stroke filled 120 was neatly executed and was as sweet as sweet in its taste. In the first match of the league when Karnataka had nearly beaten Rajasthan, Saxena’s 99 in the second innings had helped them remain alive and scratch a point. Today on the last match of the season a cycle neared a complete round.
As the day neared the end the attention shifted towards Chopra’s three figure landmark. But the opener had shut shop much before the possibilities could arise. His characteristics slowness became more evident as he stayed away from the strike in the seventies and eighties. It was as if the purpose was to avoid getting into the nervous nineties before stumps and losing out on a good night’s sleep.
Rajasthan on the back of their experience of having won a title last year stand a long distance ahead of Tamil Nadu who are in the finals for the first time in 8 years. The score card read 221 for no loss at the end of the 90th over. Tomorrow will be a fresh day with a potential for innumerable twists and turns but in India’s premier first class competition where first innings lead is the mentality in which most of the players channel their thought process it has to be a turnaround of sorts if Tamil Nadu can pull back things and stop this contest from being a one way traffic.
The Englishmen felt it was a day of cricket that purists would pay to watch and that they got to see it free was worth the sleep they sacrificed to recoup their jet-lagged body and prepare for their journey back to London in a day’s time.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His twitter id is @sidhpat)