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We reached Baroda the day before yesterday for our Irani Trophy game against Rest of India. There was a nice air-conditioned bus waiting for us at the airport. You must be wondering as to what the big deal is about the AC bus, but let me assure you that there most certainly is. In case you're inquisitive, please keep watching this space throughout the season, and you'll come to know.
After reaching the hotel a little after 8pm we spent a few hours browsing various rooms before settling down. Some of the rooms were really small while the rest had double beds. Except for the captain everyone shares his room with another player, which is fine, but sharing the same bed doesn't sound too exciting.
The idea for coming well in advance, though, is good for a couple of reasons. Firstly the heavy rains in Delhi had put paid to any hopes of practising before the biggest game of the season. Secondly coming to the venue a couple of days in advance would help us get used to the conditions, especially the red soil found in the west. The ball tends to bounce a lot more on red soil as compared to the black soil found in the north. Once the bounce varies considerably, the way one approaches the game changes accordingly: which balls to leave - sometimes you can trust the bounce and just allow it to go through to the keeper, which balls to go forward to or back to. The bowlers can work out the length they need to bowl. All of these change with the pitch.
But luck deserted us here too as it has been raining heavily in this part of the country as well. We did get a hit in the nets, but the track was wet and so was the ground. But then something is better than nothing.
Another thing that I noticed today was the enthusiasm of the people in a small town. We'd gone to a nearby gym in the evening and the word got out. There were more than a few people queuing outside the gym to catch a glimpse of their favourite cricketers. This would never happen in a big city, but then Baroda isn't a big city.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.