Baroda aim to overcome Yusuf and Munaf's absence
If missing Irfan Pathan was not enough, Baroda now have to contend with a strong Karnataka side in the absence of Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel. And that too in the semi-final, a pressure game. "There is nothing one can do about it. Yes, they are our big guns. But now that they are not here, we cannot mope about that fact," Mukesh Narula, the Baroda coach, told ESPNcricinfo. Yusuf and Munaf will fly to South Africa as part of India's limited-overs squad.
How is Narula dealing with the largely inexperienced side in such a scenario? "At the outset, it's a mental adjustment for me. I've first got to realise that I need to now motivate the boys to put their best foot forward, as there is simply no other option."
However, Pinal Shah, the captain, said that they were not too worried by the absence of Yusuf and Munaf, and were taking confidence from their run this season, which almost everyone has contributed.
Narula said it was a chance for the others to grab the limelight with their performances. "Many of our bowlers have taken four-wicket hauls, but no fivers. I told them, 'you have been part of the set-up for three-four years now, what have you got to show for your efforts?' The difference between taking four wickets and five is akin to the difference between batsmen getting a 99 and a 100."
The batting looks a bit thin, and Narula admitted the experienced ones like Connor Williams and Ambati Rayudu have to click for Baroda to have a chance. "The big ones have to fire. We have talent in the form of young Kedar Devdhar, but you cannot expect him to lead the batting in a big game like a semi-final."
The way Rayudu approached the nets session would have given Narula confidence. He showed why he is considered among the better talents in the country. Other batsmen were defending length deliveries or playing them along the ground in the V. No such niceties for Rayudu. He had a sighter or two initially, and then started hammering them in the air over where midwicket or mid-on would have been. He was very quick to pick up the length, and his timing was mostly spot-on.
Baroda's bowling certainly is thin, the track is expected to take turn as the game progresses, and both have prompted them to consider giving 21-year old offspinner Aditya Waghmode a debut. "Well, we are considering it, and if it happens, what a time it would be for him to make his debut. But you know, cricket is like this; if on the day, you can get it to pitch in the right areas, you can be successful, and what better time to do it than in a semi-final." Narula was banking on his highest wicket-taker this season, 20-year old left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt, to lead the attack.
There was speculation about Baroda's choice of ground for the game, which was shifted from the regular first-class venue Moti Bagh Stadium to the Reliance Stadium on the outskirts of the city. The pitch here does not offer as much assistance to the fast bowlers as the Moti Bagh Stadium does, and it was being said that Baroda had moved in order to blunt the Karnataka seam trio of Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and S Aravind. "We had decided to play the semi-final at Reliance right after the quarter-final ended. The ground is of international standard, and has much better facilities," was all Narula would say. "As the home team, I think we certainly have the liberty to decide which venue we should go for."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo