Tamil Nadu will have to wait for another year to get their hands on the Ranji Trophy --- or hope for a miracle --- after being outplayed by Rajasthan for the third consecutive day in the summit clash.
While the defending champions frustrated their opponents with a defensive approach for the first two days, they tightened the screws on the hosts with a well-calculated game plan on Saturday to stay on course for a title triumph.
Only four teams - Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka and Maharashtra - have defended their Ranji crown. Chasing 621, Tamil Nadu needed a solid start to stay in the hunt, but they were done in by an incisive opening spell from Rituraj Singh and Pankaj Singh. Rituraj, the hero of Rajasthan's semifinal triumph, sent back Abhinav Mukund for a duck and then induced M Vijay into playing a false shot. At the other end, Pankaj trapped S Badrinath in front of the wicket as the hosts were reduced to 24 for 3 in the first 10 overs.Former skipper Dinesh Karthik (13) and K Vasudeva Das (26) managed to steady the ship with an unbeaten 42-run stand for the fourth wicket. But Tamil Nadu, who ended the day on 66 for 3, will need a monumental effort from the two to either overhaul Rajasthan's score or bat out another 180 overs and score 520 runs to win on better average.
Earlier, Resuming on 404 for 2, there was urgency in Rajasthan's approach as Vineet Saxena (257) and Robin Bist (57) ran hard and were prepared to chase down balls outside the off stumps.
Their cause was helped by an out of sorts V Yomahesh who sprayed the ball on both sides of the wicket.
Saxena hit him for a couple of boundaries on the point fence and also tried to reverse-sweep Aushik Srinivas, who became the first TN bowler to bowl over 70 overs in one Ranji Trophy innings.
Saxena's vigil ends
Rajasthan added 102 runs in the first session for the loss of Bist before a mini collapse after lunch gave some hope to TN. Srinivas ended Saxena's over 15-hour vigil when the batsman played inside the line and was bowled after adding 50 runs to his overnight total. Only Rajeev Nayyar of Himachal Pradesh has batted longer than Saxena in a Ranji trophy match, when he batted for 1015 minutes against J&K in 1999.
It looked like TN would restrict their opponents to under-550 when they reduced Rajasthan to 518 for six, but Pankaj and Rituraj took the attack to the bowlers.
Pankaj sent Srinivas over the fence twice in two overs, while Rituraj used the inside-out drive with great effect against the spinners and medium pacers to take his team beyond the 600-run mark.