Entrance test for Delhi
No multi-storeyed buildings, no malls, clusters of bamboo trees bordering small hut-like houses on both sides of the narrow road bending gently, the drive towards the Tripura Institute of Technology ground on the outskirts of the state's capital wasn't what the domestic cricket crowd comes across very often.
That is one of the two venues where the final phase of the national one-day championship starts on Saturday. Having hosted the odd Duleep and Deodhar Trophy games apart from the seasonal Ranji Trophy fixtures, this is the biggest cricket show this tiny state will experience firsthand. Eager eyes instead of ones used to watching top domestic teams was something else that stood out on the eve of the competition.
This tournament is not of immediate importance with the Indian ODI team already in New Zealand and the next ODIs coming after a bombardment of T20 cricket. Still, there is a lot play for.
For Delhi, who face Railways on Saturday in the pre-quarters, it's a question of doing something notable after winning the Ranji Trophy in 2007-08. For their rivals, it's a chance to do well since winning this competition in 2005-06.
The other teams to be in action on Saturday, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, have contrasting goals. Tamil Nadu have done well of late and sent a number of players into or around the Indian team. But they haven't won anything, while Orissa have lost the spark after reaching the Ranji Trophy semifinals at the turn of the century.
So there will be a lot to play for from the opening day. "You can't always have these tournaments just ahead of selecting the team for international matches," said TN coach W.V. Raman. "That doesn't mean lack of motivation. Performance here will keep the players in the reckoning." Raman's Delhi counterpart Vijay Dahiya felt playing a pre-quarterfinal this was better than being among the four teams seeded directly into the quarters. "It's an advantage to get a game more. You get a longer run before the big games," said Dahiya.
There are individual goals too and Delhi's Virat Kohli with Tamil Nadu's S. Badrinath would try to win back their places in the national squad. Missions collective and personal, to be launched in front of stands where entry is free, the knockout stage of the domestic one-day chapter begins amid expectations ranging from moderate to great.