When J Kaushik holed out to Pankaj Singh at the fine-leg fence an hour after tea, the Rajasthan players held back the urge to break into an impromptu jig even though the final day’s play of the Ranji final is now a formality.According to the rules, a team taking the first innings lead is crowned champion in case the match is drawn. And in the current situation, an outright result is not possible.
Defending a first innings total of 621, Rajasthan bowled out Tamil Nadu for 295 and then opted not to impose the follow on. At stumps, the visitors were 21 for no loss, with an overall lead of 347 and just 90 overs of play remaining.
When Rajasthan are officially crowned champions on Monday, they will become only the fifth team to retain the title in the event’s 78-year history. Only Mumbai, Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka have achieved the feat in the past.
Rajasthan began Day 4 with their tails up, having sent back Tamil Nadu’s top-three batsmen the previous evening. They would have loved to wrap up the issue a lot earlier but for a determined Dinesh Karthik. The 26-year-old showed exceptional grit to score his second successive century in a Ranji final, having kept wickets for over two-and-half days and coming into bat in the seventh over of their innings.
Resuming at 66 for 3, Tamil Nadu needed an incredible effort to get past Rajasthan’s total and lift the Ranji crown after two decades. But their hopes evaporated in the morning session itself when they lost overnight batsman Vasudeva Das (25) in the third over of the day, and R Prasanna (44) was run out just when his partnership with Karthik was started to test Rajasthan’s patience.
Prasanna, the hero of Tamil Nadu’s semifinal triumph against Mumbai, showed no semblance of discomfort against the medium pacers and treated left-arm spinner Gajendra Singh with disdain, sweeping him for five boundaries.
But a silly mistake from Karthik ended the partnership. The wicket-keeper-batsman pushed the ball towards mid on and set off for a single. However, instead of sticking to his natural line of movement, Karthik headed straight towards the non-striker and almost collided with him. That slowed down Prasanna and even a weak Rituraj Singh throw was enough to send him back to the pavilion.
Karthik was not the one to give up. He entertained the Sunday crowd, which had gathered to watch a good day of cricket, with some delectable stroke play. Despite wickets falling at regular intervals, he kept the scoreboard ticking and even stepped out to send Rituraj into the stands once he entered the 90s. Karthik added 60 runs for the eighth wicket with skipper L Balaji (29) and 65 for the ninth wicket with J Kaushik, but the partnerships were not enough.