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The Irani Trophy game between the Ranji champions and the Rest of India is a curtain raiser to the new domestic season. It has always been a high-profile game, pitting the national champions against the very best of the country. I've played in the Irani Trophy a few times in the past, but it's always been for the Rest of India. This time I'll be playing for my state team, so this is a first for me. Talking about firsts, incidentally this is also the first time I've come to Baroda. Considering I've been around on the domestic circuit for a decade, it seems bizarre even to me.
We managed a decent net session yesterday as the tracks had dried up and the ball was coming on to the bat nicely. Even though it was doing loads for the quicker bowlers, it was much better than what we batted on yesterday. There was decent grass covering on the practice wickets, a stark contrast to the track in the middle that is totally barren and looks a little too dry for a five-day match. The track on this particular IPCL ground has the reputation of helping the quicker men for a couple of reasons: the red soil that offers more bounce carrying the edges to the slips comfortably, and the open surroundings with greenery all around. The wind blows nicely and assists the seam bowlers.
The weather hasn’t been kind on the curator for the last 10 days, and it must've been really tough to prepare a decent track when it has been under covers most of the time. One might think that with all the rain around, if anything, there should be more moisture on the track, but that's seldom the case. A good curator would avoid watering it too much, taking the rains into account and leaving some room for any unexpected shower. Ergo, this track, which I am told usually has a decent grass covering and moisture, is a little dry to start with.
We're playing against a virtual India side, except for the Delhi players and Sachin Tendulkar. Instead of focusing on the players we're up against, we're focusing on our strengths, and let me assure you we have many. We're at our full strength, which hasn't happened for quite some time. One look at the talent available in our dressing room exudes confidence in the whole squad. Please don't get me wrong. I'm not taking anything away from our opposition, but I can't say anything about them that hasn't already been said or written a zillion times over.
No one would give a state team a chance to beat such a strong unit, but that only means that we have everything to gain and very little to lose from this game. Although the odds are stacked against us, we are all geared up to give the ROI a run for their money. Gautam Gambhir said something that would give you an insight into the mindset we will take in when we go in to play. He said, “We must believe that this ROI side is beatable and regardless of the situation of the match we're in, we mustn't lose that belief.”
For us this game is the reward for having won the Ranji Trophy last season, as this would offer a great opportunity and platform for everyone to showcase his talent. A few might have got this opportunity in any case - some would've been picked for the ROI - but for the rest, it's their only shot to grab the limelight.
If we play to our potential and don't allow the importance of the occasion to distract us from the job at hand, a great contest is in the offing.
Rest of India, here we come.
Please wish us luck … it's great to support the underdogs.
© 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.