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January 4, 2007
It's an intriguing battle on cards in Indore. The two teams have taken slightly contrasting routes to reach the semi-finals. While Baroda cruised in the initial half of the season before spluttering a touch in the end, Delhi started off in a hurry, slowed down in the middle and then peaked again. The weather that washed out their penultimate game against Karnataka threatened to spoil Delhi's party, but they won convincingly against Tamil Nadu to storm into the final four with confidence.
The absence of key players from both teams has levelled the field. Baroda lost Irfan Pathan to the national team mid-way during the season while Delhi, who were already without Ishant Sharma and Virender Sehwag, will lose the services of the promising left-arm seamer Pradeep Sangwan and the middle-order batsman Virat Kohli for the game as both are away playing for India Under-19.
Rahul Sanghvi, the veteran left-arm spinner, and the former Haryana medium-pacer Sumit Narwal have been drafted in as replacements. "When we play Baroda we have a left-arm spinner in Rahul and a leg-break bowler in Chetanya Nanda. Our team has the right balance of experience and youth." Vijay Dahiya, Delhi's coach, told Indian Express. "This entire season we were without a left-arm spinner and we thought why not give him a call for this crucial encounter. We have got an opportunity to be the best domestic team in the country and Rahul will be of a great help."
But it has to be watched whether Delhi go with a double-spin attack as the pitch has some live grass on it. Both teams are yet to decide the final eleven as they want to have a final look at the pitch on the morning of the match. "The wicket looks pretty good," Dahiya said. "There is some grass on the track."
Baroda will look to their openers Rakesh Solanki and Connar Williams, who have each piled over 500 runs this season, to give them a good start. The middle-order has a few consistent performers - Yusuf Pathan, Pinal Shah and Azharuddin Bilakhia.
The spinners have shouldered the burden for Baroda. They have been the strike-cum-stock bowlers. Yusuf has bagged 25 wickets while Rajesh Pawar, the left-arm spinner, has taken 20. Sumit Singh, with 15 wickets, has done his best to cover the absence of Irfan, but it has to be seen whether the attack can keep the strong Delhi batting line-up in check. Apart from the consistent opening pair of Aakash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir, they have the likes of Mithun Manhas, Mayank Tehlan and the allrounder Rajat Bhatia. The presence of Bhatia, who has claimed 20 wickets at 10.30, and has a century this season, gives Delhi the right balance.
You would have to pick Delhi as the slight favourites but in a season of surprise, where the previous year's finalists have been forced to eat the humble pie, you can never be sure.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth