More than halfway into the Ranji Trophy season, Rajasthan, defending champions, were languishing in the bottom half of their pool. They had conceded the first-innings lead in five consecutive matches, yet had not lost or won a fixture. From having five points from five matches, Rajasthan rallied to retain their Elite Division place. They won the quarter-finals against Hyderabad on the basis of a first-innings lead and then beat Haryana in the semi-finals in two and a half days. Here, Cricketnext recaps Rajasthan's madcap season.
1st round, Rajasthan v Karnataka, Udaipur
The season began on a difficult note for Rajasthan, who conceded 623 for 6 against Karnataka with KB Pawan hitting an unbeaten 251 and Stuary Binny 151 off 141 balls. They were bowled out for 255 in the first innings – a deficit of 368 - but having been forced to follow-on Rajasthan's batsmen toughed out the entire fourth day for a draw with Vineet Saxena (99 off 283 balls), Vaibhav Deshpande (52 off 150), Robin Bist (20 off 51) and Rohit Jhalani (28 not out off 60) digging deep. They took one point from the draw.
2nd round, Rajasthan v Mumbai, Mumbai
Taking on the big boys of domestic cricket in their own backyard, Rajasthan scored 530 after opting to bat at the Brabourne Stadium, thanks to a century from Hrishikesh Kanitar (141) and fifties to Saxena, Bist and Rashmi Ranjan Parida. However, the bowlers were unable to prevent Mumbai piling up 625 and with it the crucial first-innings lead. Abhishek Nayar took 243 off Rajasthan's lackluster attack and Rohit Sharma 100, with only Pankaj Singh making an impact with five wickets. In reply, Rajasthan were 70 for 2 as the match ended.
3rd round, Rajasthan v Railways, Delhi
Another 500-plus total at the Karnail Singh Stadium was not enough to prevent hosts Railsways take an unlikely first-innings lead. Bist's first century of the season and a maiden double-century to Ashok Menaria comprised the bulk of Rajasthan's 521 for 8 in the absence of an injured Kanitkar. Once again the bowlers were unable to stem the opposition, as Railways declared at 525 for 8 after Mahesh Rawat's stubborn 145. The lone bright spot for Rajasthan's bowlers was leg-break bowler Vivek Yadav who took a career-best 6 for 134. Once Sanjay Bangar declared, Arlen Konwar and Anureet Singh reduced Rajasthan to 20 for 4, and play was ended soon after. One more point for Rajasthan.
4th round, Rajasthan v Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur
Back at their home venue, Rajasthan conceded 492 to Uttar Pradesh. There were no centuries in UP's dominant first-innings total, but five half-centuries were enough. Yadav picked up five more wickets and Deepak Chahar four. In reply, Rajasthan began poorly by losing an out-of-form Aakash Chopra and Saxena, before Bist (76), Parida (57) and Maneria (49) offered some resistance. It was not enough to prevent UP taking the lead. Following-on, Bist scored another century and Chopra his first of the season as Rajasthan finished on 349 for 2 with one point.
5th round, Rajasthan v Punjab, Jaipur
Maiden first-class centuries to Mayank Sidhana and Amitoze Singh and three-figure knocks from Karan Goel and Ravi Inder Singh took Punjab to 597 for 8 as Rajasthan's frail bowling attack was again exposed. Bist rose to the occasion again with an excellent 176 – his third century of the season – while Kanitkar and Parida chipped in with fifties, but it was not enough for Rajasthan (500) to overtake Punjab's total. There on, the rest of the match was only a formality as Bipul Sharma smashed 56 to take Punjab to 94 for 2 in their second innings.
6th round, Rajasthan v Saurashtra, Jaipur
With their chances of staying in the Elite Division hanging by a thread, Rajasthan hit back superbly to beat Saurashtra by a whopping 229 runs. Centuries to Saxena and Puneet Yadav, in his second first-class match, were the stand-out knocks in Rajasthan's first-innings 396. In defense of that total, Rajasthan's bowlers came to the party by keeping Saurashtra to 265 with Pankaj taking 5 for 64. Chopra fell two short of a century as Rajasthan declared on 241 for 4, leaving Saurashtra to chase 373 or bat out most of the fourth day. It was not to be, however, as veteran seamer Sumit Mathur (6 for 33) helped the home team bowled Saurashtra out for 143. It was a turning point for the title holders.
7th round, Rajasthan v Orissa, Jaipur
Rajasthan's season continued its dramatic rise as Rajasthan beat Orissa by an innings and 56 runs at home. Another Bist century (127 not out) and a solid top-order performance got the score to 423 in the first innings, and then Mathur took 5 for 30 to bundle out Orissa for 134, giving Rajasthan the lead. Kanitkar had no hesitation in enforcing the follow-on and Orissa again stumbled with the bat. This time the star was rookie pace bowler Rituraj Singh, who scalped six wickets on a lively surface to finish as the Man of the Match. Orissa could manage just 233 and were relegated from the Elite Division.
Quarter-final, Rajasthan v Hyderabad, Hyderabad
Having opted to bat first at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Rajasthan were bailed out of trouble by Chopra's excellent 142 along with young wicketkeeper-batsmen Dishant Yagnik who scored 101. These knocks helped the score to 421, after which a collective bowling effort led by left-arm spinner Gajendra Singh delivered Rajasthan the first-innings lead. Hyderabad tore into the bowling in the second innings, with the openers Dwaraka Ravi Teja and Akshath Reddy posing 275 in 74 overs. Hyderabad declared at 431 for 2, setting Rajasthan a target of 155, but the visitors batted with utmost caution to ensure a draw.
Semi-final, Rajasthan v Haryana, Lahli
In cold Lahli, Rajasthan were bowled out for 89 with rookie fast bowler Harshal Patel taking an incredible 8 for 38. Rajasthan's campaign looked to have unraveled, but they hit back through their new-ball bowlers to leave Haryana hemorrhaging at 12 for 5. By stumps on day one the hosts were 82 for 8, and the lower order managed to secure a slim eight-run lead. It was Rituraj again who shone in the north Indian haze with 7 for 45. Rajasthan's batsmen gave a better account of themselves in the second innings scoring 192, and by stumps on day two Haryana were precariously placed at 15 for 2 chasing 185. On a dramatic third day, Rituraj – in just his third match – took a five-wicket haul to notch up a 64-run win that propelled Rajasthan into their second consecutive Ranji Trophy final.