A formidable Tamil Nadu with plenty of experience in its rank will be the favourites against a confident Baroda, who shrugged off off-field controversies to mount an impressive run, when the two teams clash in the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
Dinesh Karthik-led Tamil Nadu have hardly looked in any sort of trouble since their group stage encounters with dominating victories while chasing.
Baroda, under stand-in skipper Kedar Devdhar, have won some one-sided matches but also a cliff-hanger against Haryana in the quarter-finals where Vishnu Solanki hit a last-ball helicopter shot to win the match.
Baroda’s performance is all the more praiseworthy since their senior batsman Deepak Hooda stormed out after an altercation with skipper Krunal Pandya, who also had to leave after his father’s death.
Tamil Nadu were also in a spot of bother in the quarter-final against Himachal Pradesh but some big-hitting by Shahrukh Khan and a composed knock by Baba Aparajith saw them through.
Arun Karthik then played a beautiful knock of 89 against Rajasthan to guide his team to the final.
Opener N Jagadeesan (350 runs) tops the run-scorers list while his opening partner C Hari Nishaanth’s form has tapered off after a bright start.
Skipper Karthik hasn’t played a big knock but has been a stabilising influence in the middle-order during tricky run-chases.
Shahrukh Khan will be eager to impress talent scouts in what will effectively be his last chance before the IPL auctions next month.
Left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore (8 wkts so far) will have to play a big role on Sunday along with leggie M Ashwin and Aparajith, who has been more than useful with his off-breaks.
Medium-pacers M Mohammed and R Sonu Yadav have played their parts but Tamil Nadu’s think-tank might be tempted to drop a misfiring Aswin Crist, who came in for Sandeep Warrier, and bring G Periyasamy into the playing XI.
For Baroda, a title triumph will mean their third national trophy in the shortest format. And for that to happen, opener Devdhar, the highest run-getter for the team with 333 runs, might have to score big again.
Apart from Devdhar, Baroda will relay on Solanki, who pulled off a last over heist against Haryana in the quarter-final. He, however, failed to make an impact in the semi-final and will be keen to add to his tally.
The Baroda team management will be more than happy that Kartik Kakade has roared back to form and that gives the middle-order a strong look. They can continue to open with Ninad Rathva so that he can put pressure on the Tamil Nadu bowlers, with Smit Patel coming down the order.
Babashafi Pathan will also be an important cog in their wheel, with both the bat and ball.
Baroda’s impressive pace duo of Atit Sheth and Lukman Meriwala will try to make early inroads. Meriwala picked up three wickets in the semi-final but was expensive towards the end, something he would be keen to change.
The role of the spin trio of left-arm spinners Bhargav Bhatt, Ninad Rathva and offie Kartik Kakade will also be vital in the middle overs.
Match starts at 7 pm on Sunday.