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Down south, the battle for domestic supremacy begins

On the eve of the Ranji Trophy final against holders Rajasthan, the last thing Tamil Nadu want to focus on is their record in the final. Abhijeet Kulkarni reports. The squads

cricket Updated: Jan 19, 2012 02:00 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni

On the eve of the Ranji Trophy final against holders Rajasthan, the last thing Tamil Nadu want to focus on is their record in the final.

Despite the talent in their ranks, the hosts have been perennial under-achievers. Since 2003-04, the last time they reached the final, Tamil Nadu have been a domestic powerhouse but have rarely risen to the occasion under pressure in the knockout stage.

It was the same case when both the teams met in the semifinal last year with Tamil Nadu faltering while chasing a 500-plus first innings total on a wicket that played true through the match. Tamil Nadu captain L Balaji was quick to admit that the team hadn't won enough titles despite producing quality players, but insisted that the present squad was different.

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"I've been a part of the team for 12 years and what was missing was a strong bowling unit," he said.

"We used to depend on one individual to get wickets. Today, everyone is eager to contribute and when the team is pushed to the corner, everyone is willing to stand up," said Balaji, who was part of the side that lost the 2003-04 final.

"I have played one final in Mumbai and know what it is about. At the end of the day, you have to enjoy playing cricket. We have played eight games and we are going to prepare like that, just another game," he added.

Tamil Nadu's formidable batting line-up has fired on all cylinders this year, and with opener M Vijay also coming to the party in the semifinal against Mumbai last week, the Rajasthan bowlers have their task cut out.

The champions have thrived on the underdog tag and the way they turned around the season after a dismal start has been commendable.

Robin Bist has successfully shouldered the responsibility of anchoring the batting unit and the team will again bank on him and the experience of skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Aakash Chopra and Rashmi Parida to take them to a formidable total.

Kanitkar admitted that Tamil Nadu were the favourites but insisted that the result would depend on which team was more eager to win.