Baroda, always considered a dangerous opponent on its day, at home or away, came down by a few notches last season when the matches were played at neutral venues. The ability to adapt to diverse conditions comes with experience, and this quality was clearly missing in Baroda. A lone victory in a low-scoring game against Bengal in Lahli, four draws and three defeats in the league stage saw the team, led by Irfan Pathan, finish eighth.

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It took Baroda five matches to get into the act and taste its first victory in the nine-team league. India Under-19 medium-pacer Atit Sheth kept the pressure on the Bengal batsmen in conditions conducive to seam bowling and sealed the 21-run victory for Baroda with a match haul of 10 for 94. The match ended inside two days.

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Baroda’s defeats in Raipur (lost to Tamil Nadu by an innings and 44 runs), Nagpur (lost to Railways by seven wickets) and Dharamshala (lost to Madhya Pradesh by 232 runs) belied the early promise that the team showed in the drawn match against Mumbai in Delhi. In its opening fixture against Gujarat in Jaipur, Baroda’s opener Aditya Waghmode and No. 4 Deepak Hooda cracked centuries in a mammoth first innings score of 544 for 8 declared.

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Gujarat, the eventual champion, replied with 554 for four to take the first innings lead. Manpreet Juneja scored an unbeaten 201, while Axar Patel slammed an unbeaten 110. Baroda used nine bowlers but couldn’t stop the marauding Gujarat batsmen. The inability to bowl out sides would hurt Baroda as the tournament progressed.

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All-rounder Hardik Pandya played only one match in the league stage as he was busy with his international assignments. He is likely to miss many games for Baroda this season too.

Baroda may persist with the same set of players as last season. And should experienced first-class players such as Deepak Hooda (average: 71.72) and Kedar Devdhar (average: 47.84) continue to get runs, Pandya’s absence would not affect the team’s prospects.

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The decision to get back to the home-and-away format will help Baroda. Irfan Pathan is well-equipped to manage the team’s bowling resources. Atit Sheth’s 18 scalps in three Ranji appearances last season and Babashafi Pathan’s 16 from four matches show how far young bowlers can progress under a confident leader.

Last season: Failed to qualify for the knock-out.

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