They're tricky things, these semifinals. Win them and teams find themselves on the cusp of a new era, while a loss suddenly relegates them to the league of also-rans. Nobody remembers the losing semifinalists, no matter how good the team has played throughout a season, no matter how well the players have come together as a unit to get here --- it all comes to zilch.
Both Delhi and Baroda have had great Ranji seasons; they have produced a number of standout performances throughout the gruelling season and deserve their places in the final four. But for the next five days, both teams have to raise their game even further, work even harder and play even better cricket to make it to the final --- factors both teams seemed to have taken into account in their preparation.
Both arrived here two days in advance to get in an extra day of nets, both sets of players displayed greater intensity than normal at practice, while the coaches kept a close watch on the opposition practising.
This is uncharted territory for Delhi. It isn't every season that they reach this far in a Ranji season, something that could be looked at as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Delhi, despite their riches, weren't expected to do this well. They weren't everybody's favourites to make it to the last four and have confounded just about everyone by making it this far.
Slowly but surely, Vijay Dahiya and his team moved up the list of favourites. Having reached here, though, Delhi are suddenly being talked about as favourites. All of a sudden, they have become the team to beat. And it is this sudden attention Delhi will have to be aware of. This is the first semifinal for most of the players, and they mustn't let the occasion get to them.
A problem the Baroda players wouldn't be worrying about too much. This is their third successive Ranji semifinal, and though they are yet to come out successful from any of them, the team hasn't lost hope. The players firmly believe they have what it takes to beat Delhi and take that next step. Coached by Paras Mhambrey, Baroda don't have any superstars in their team. That dearth, however, has been more than ably filled by an overriding spirit of teamwork that runs through the squad.
And this teamwork has translated into on-field success. Baroda have been setting the pace in Group B, beating both Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. However, Mhambrey's high-flying side hit an air pocket after that. They didn't win any matches and conceded first innings lead to the likes of Andhra and Orissa in the two games leading up to this semifinal.
Apart from being a competitive game, it also promises to be a tactical one. Both coaches decided to keep their cards close to their chests, not divulging the final XI. The wicket, both coaches agreed, looked like a good batting track.
Delhi, it seemed, were all decided to go in with a 2-spinner, 2-seamer attack, but decided to keep the option of a 3-seamer 1-spinner attack open after a team meeting.
Delhi: Gautam Gambhir (cap), Aakash Chopra, Mithun Manhas, Shikhar Dhawan, Rajat Bhatia, Mayank Tehlan, Puneet Bisht, Parwinder Awana, Chetnya Nanda, Rahul Sanghvi, Sumeet Narwal, Amit Bhandari, Aditya Jain, Gaurav Chhabra, Narender Singh.
Baroda: Connor Williams (cap), Yusuf Pathan, Pinal Shah, Satyajit Parab, Rajesh Pawar, Rakesh Solanki, Azharuddin Bilakhiya, Shatrunjaya Gaekwad, Sumit Singh, Sankalp Vohra, Rishikesh Parab, Dishant Mehta, Niten Shah, Irfan Pathan (sr), Saleem Yusuf.