A couple of weeks ago you wouldn't have thought too much while picking Baroda to be the overwhelming favourites over Hyderabad. Nine players had been pouched by the Indian Cricket League, leaving Hyderabad with a gaping hole in the team sheet while Baroda had been in the final four last season where they threatened to gatecrash Mumbai's party. You would still expect Baroda to come out top on the honours board here but they can expect a fight from the hosts.
Young players are filling up the vacancy with merit. Vivek Jaisimha, Hyderabad's coach, and Kanwaljit Singh, the bowling coach, are sighing in relief at the performance of the young team. Despite yielding the first-innings lead and in a precarious position in the second, following-on, they fought hard to hung on to a draw against Bengal in the first game. Everything clicked in the second game against Punjab, where they came away with a first-innings lead and three points.
"This is a young team, full of players who won the Under-22 South Zone title this season. We are not putting any pressure on them and are very pleased by the way the boys are showing hunger to do well," Jaisimha told Cricinfo. "The target is to finish in the top three of the group and if we get into final four this season it would be great. If the boys carry on the way they are performing we can do it."
The team does have some promising talent. There is Ravi Teja, the dashing opener who has five fifties and a hundred - in a draw against Punjab - from seven games, Anoop Pai and allrounder Amol Shinde. The bowling, especially the spin department, is pretty decent. Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner with India A experienced, will lead the attack. He has another promising left-arm spinner, Lalit Mohan, for company. Ashwin Yadav, SM Shoaib and Mohammad Khadar offer hope in the seam department. Daniel Manohar, who cracked a ton in the game against Punjab, offers the much-needed experience in the absence of VVS Laxman.
Barada look a very settled side who have traversed the path to success. In Satyajit Parab and Connor Williams, who represented India in an unofficial Test against South Africa in 2001, they have a experienced opening combination. They have just thrashed Bengal by an innings and have the in-form Yusuf Pathan, who hit 183 and took ten wickets in that game, Rakesh Solanki, the top-scorer in the same, and Rajesh Pawar, the left-arm spinner who picked 4 for 23 in the second innings. And then they have Irfan Pathan, a man who would have a point or two to prove after being not considered for the Tests despite the injuries to Sreesanth and RP Singh.
But the pitch might thwart him and the rest of the bowlers. It looks loaded with runs and both Paras Mhambrey, Baroda's coach, and Jaisimha reckon the match will be all about getting the first-innings lead. Both teams have had intensive nets session, spreading over three hours, for the last two days. Unless the pitch turns out to be a devil in saint's clothes, expect a run-fest.