Defending champions Rajasthan were in a commanding position against hosts Tamil Nadu, at the end of the third day's play of the Ranji Trophy final, in Chennai on Saturday.
Rajasthan scored a mammoth 621 in 245 overs in their first innings and then reduced Tamil Nadu to 66 for three at close of play. K Vasudevadas (25 batting) and Dinesh Kartyik (13 batting) added 42 runs for the unbroken fourth wicket stand after the hosts were tottering at 24 for three.
With two days left, Tamil Nadu are still 555 runs behind Rajasthan's first innings score but the magic figure for the hosts will certainly be 521.
With Rajasthan scoring their 621 runs at an average of 2.53 runs per over, Tamil Nadu can still win the trophy if they are not dismissed.
As of now, they require to score at a rate of 2.54 runs per over which means 521 runs in 205 overs. Another 455 runs in the remaining 180 overs and not losing more than six wickets will seal the issue for the Laxmipathy Balaji-led team.
Resuming at 404 for two, it was veteran opener Vineet Saxena (257) and young Robin Bist (57, 159 balls, 9x4) who again continued in sedate fashion taking the score to 485 before the latter played a Sunny Gupta (3/127) delivery straight to K Vasudevadas at square leg.
Saxena's 907-minute marathon vigil finally ended, when he tried to play a backfoot drive off left-arm spinner Raju Aushik Srinivas and was bowled in the process. His innings was the third longest in history of first-class cricket.
He faced 665 balls hitting 26 fours and two sixes.
From 509 for 3, the Tamil Nadu bowlers finally managed to affect a mini-collapse as the visitors slumped to 541 for seven. Rashmi Ranjan Parida (40) and young Rituraj Singh (45, 5x4, 1x6) then added 73 runs in just over 14 overs to take Rajasthan past the 600-run mark.
May be it was the frustration of having fielded for 245 overs, Tamil Nadu top-order batsmen looked in a tearing hurry to score runs on a track where most of the deliveries never rose above ankle length.
Rather than offering the straight bat, the trio of Abhinav Mukund (0), Murali VIjay (15) and Subramanium Badrinath (6) all were guilty of playing across the line when all they needed to offer was a straight bat.
Mukund played across the line to a delivery from young seamer Rituraj Singh and was struck on the pads. Although umpire Peter Hartley adjudged Mukund leg-before, the height was certainly a question.
Tamil Nadu's best player in crises situations, Badrinath was plumb in-front trying to play an on-drive off Pankaj Singh. The situation became worse when Vijay, who hit a couple of attractive boundaries, couldn't check his drive off Rituraj and the ball ballooned to Puneet Yadav at mid-wicket for an easy catch.
Vasudevadas and Karthik however ensured that there wasn't any further damage. The 22-yard strip at the Chepauk is getting from bad to worse. It will be a test of character for both Karthik and Vasudevadas as the only recognised batsman left is Ramaswamy Prasanna.
The balls have started keeping low and Rajasthan wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik was seen gathering most of the deliveries near his ankle. The only advantage that Tamil Nadu have is that Rajasthan doesn't have a quality spin-attack to take advantage of cracks widening on the pitch.
Left-arm spinner Gajendra Singh will certainly bowl a lot of overs on the fourth day and if he can consistently hit the cracks, it would make life miserable for Tamil Nadu batsmen.
Scoreboard (At close on Day 3)
Rajasthan 1st Innings: (Overnight 404/2)
A Chopra lbw b Aushik Srinivas 94
V A Saxena b Aushik Srinivas 257
H H Kanitkar c D Karthik b Sunny Gupta 67
R Bist c Vasudevadas b Sunny Gupta 57
R R Parida c Balaji b Kaushik 40
Puneet Yadav b Aushik Srinivas 7
D H Yagnik c Mahesh b Sunny Gupta 0
Pankaj Singh c Prasanna b Aushik Srinivas 22
R R Singh b Kaushik 45
G Singh lbw b Kaushik 4
S Mathur not out 1
Extras: (B-13, Lb-8, Nb-3, W-3) 27
Total: 621 all out (in 245 overs)
Fall of wickets: 1-236, 2-362, 3-485, 4-509, 5-517, 6-518, 7-541, 8-614, 9-620.
Bowling: L Balaji 29-10-73-0, J Kaushik 47-14-91-3, V Yo Mahesh 32-7-88-0, R Aushik Srinivas 85-27-192-4, Sunny Gupta 46-8-127-3 A Mukund 2-0-6-0, K Vasudevadas 1-0-5-0, M Vijay 3-0-18-0.
Tamil Nadu 1st innings:
A Mukund lbw b RR Singh 0
M Vijay c P Yadav b RR Singh 15
S Badrinath lbw b P Singh 6
D Karthik batting 47
K Vasudevadas batting 25
Extras: (Lb-6, W-1) 7
Total: 66 for 3 (in 25 overs)
Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-12, 3-24.
Bowling: Pankaj Singh 8-4-16-1, RR Singh 8-1-27-2, S Mathur 6-3-8-0, G Singh 3-1-9-0.