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Rajasthan have the Ranji title in sight

Irrespective of experience, those who thrive under the pressure win, while those who wither under it can never be champions. Amol Karhadkar writes.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2011 02:06 IST
Amol Karhadkar

Irrespective of experience, those who thrive under the pressure win, while those who wither under it can never be champions.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/15_01_11_metro_21.jpg

This was on display at the Motibaug ground here on Friday, as a rookie and a veteran turned out to be the difference between Baroda and Rajasthan. Due to their efforts, the visitors moved closer to their maiden Ranji Trophy title.

With Baroda looking good to stage a remarkable comeback, old hand Connor Williams and debutant Abhijit Karambelkar dropped regulation catches of rookie Ashok Menaria.

The left-hander, playing his sixth first-class match, made full use of those and with the seasoned Rashmi Parida, guided Rajasthan towards safety in the second innings after they had taken a 33-run lead.

Riding Menaria and Parida's unbroken 140-run partnership for the fourth wicket, Rajasthan, who were reduced to 11 for three and 61 for four, ended the day at 201 for four for an overall lead of 234 runs. With 90 overs remaining in the game, the eight-time runners-up are well placed to win the coveted trophy.

A period of half-an-hour in the second session could well prove to be the decisive passage of the match. With the top four batsmen --- Aakash Chopra, Vineet Saxena, skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Robin Bist --- back in the hut, Baroda, backed by a small but vociferous crowd, were going all out at Menaria and Parida.

Having handled the pressure of leading India at the U-19 World Cup less than a year ago, Menaria was looking as tentative as anybody else.

Eventually, Bhargav Bhatt, the season's leading wicket-taker, got the leading edge off his bat when Menaria was on five and the ball ballooned to Williams at first slip. Playing his third Ranji Trophy final, Williams grassed the dolly.

Two overs later, in a bid to break the shackles, Menaria attempted a cover drive off Aditya Waghmode, the off-spinner. But he neither succeeded in timing it well nor did he place it properly as the ball looped to Karambelkar at cover.

The all-rounder, who had already had a disastrous first-class debut, failed to latch on to a straightforward catch. At the time of the first chance, Rajasthan were 71 for four and they had added a single to the tally when Karambelkar erred.

With a circumspect Menaria at the other end, Parida decided to up the scoring rate with back-to-back boundaries in Waghmode's next over.

And in the next by Waghmode, he danced down the wicket and sent one over the fence.

Growing in confidence, Menaria then broke the shackles in style. He targetted Bhatt and hit him for three successive sixes on the off side.

Then on till stumps, Baroda looked like chasing a dream that kept getting distant.