A look at how the two Ranji Trophy finalists approached their practice sessions in the Moti Bagh nets gave an insight into the make-up of both teams. Baroda, whose players are much younger than Rajasthan's, were literally having a ball in their fielding drills. The exercise consisted of a player running about a pitch's length to a single stump, and then back-pedalling furiously as a member of the support staff hit a ball high in the air. All the catches were thus taken over the shoulder running backwards, and the players laughed their hearts out when a rare chance was fumbled. They certainly did not seem overawed on the eve of the biggest game of their careers.
Having made it to the final after 1974, Rajasthan looked equally at ease, but their way of showing it was totally different. Their batting this season has been led by their three professional players, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Aakash Chopra and Rashmi Parida, and their approach was more sober. Batsman after batsman lined up for nets matter-of-factly, and went through practice meticulously. The banter was lesser than at the Baroda nets, but the bonding was evident. Chopra had a go at young seamer Deepak Chahar, who smiled as the senior batsman pulled his leg.
Both teams had the air of having earned their places in the title clash, and were confident about their chances. "Baroda is a very good young side, they have to be if they have made the finals. But we will just stick to our strengths, which are batting big and bowling consistently in the right areas," Amit Asawa, the Rajasthan coach, said. "We'll look to bat big, and then put pressure on them. Anyway, we never look to over-analyse the opposition, and it does not matter if it is a home game or an away game."
Kanitkar, too, believed Rajasthan playing in Vadodara did not matter much. "We have played away previously in this season as well. And technically, though the Kota games were home matches for us, we used to arrive there on the eve of the match, just like the opposition, and the wicket there was new for us as well."
It has been a dream run for Rajasthan from last season's bottom-place finish in the Plate League, and Kanitkar said that was the reason they were not looking too far ahead. "We have just taken it one game at a time. It is tremendous for us, making the finals, but it is only a beginning. We have no need to get overconfident. We should not forget where we were last season."
Mukesh Narula, the Baroda coach, spoke of the inexperience of his side, but promised a good showing. "I doubt anyone from my team has played a five-day game before, except maybe Connor Williams. It's a question of temperament. And the crucial thing is to avoid getting overawed by the occasion. But we have been getting runs consistently on this ground, and there is no reason why we cannot do it one more time."
The Rajasthan new-ball pair of Pankaj Singh and Chahar has been talked about a lot, but Narula said his new-ball attack wasn't bad either. "I would say our seamers are under-rated. Murtuja Vahora has taken 26 wickets this season. And with all respect to Pankaj and Chahar, all his wickets have come in the Super League. So I doubt they hold the edge there."
Sumit Mathur, the Rajasthan medium-pacer, said his team definitely had the better seam attack. "I think the three of us, Pankaj, Deepak and me, can bowl out any side, and we have shown it against strong opposition like Mumbai and Tamil Nadu."
While Rajasthan were tight-lipped about their team combination, Pinal Shah, the Baroda captain, was more forthcoming. "Rakesh Solanki (the experienced batsman who was dropped for the semi-final after a lean run) could return. We are yet to decide whether to go in with three seamers or two, and will take a call tomorrow morning." Solanki had a long batting session, and Narula confirmed the batsman was in the frame for the final. "I would love to have someone of the calibre of Rakesh in the XI. The problem at the moment is whom do we leave out. I don't like going in with only two seamers for a five-day game, for if one of them breaks down, then you've had it."
There were slight niggles for the seamers on both sides. Vahora had a light temperature earlier but was said to have recovered, and bowled in the nets. Chahar was seen holding his right arm after a few warm-up deliveries, and opted out of practice. The arm was bandaged as a precautionary measure, but Kanitkar said he was fine. "These are minor issues that keep happening. It was an optional session anyways."