Jaipur: "I would like to play the semifinal at home, definitely." That was Rahul Dravid, captain of Rajasthan Royals, a resident of Bangalore but for whom 'home' has been the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur during the duration of the Indian Premier League from 2011 onwards.
Over the course of IPL VI, Rajasthan were an immovable object at home, and sometimes through Shane Watson's explosive skills, they were an unstoppable force too. A temporary derailment due to the spot-fixing scandal notwithstanding, they did well enough to finish third and gain direct entry into the Champions League Twenty20 2013.
In the aftermath of the scandal, the franchise became more tightly knit than ever been. "It brought the group closer, there's no doubt about it," said Dravid. "Even last season, there were a couple of tough days but after that, the way we came together as a group was really heartening. There was a real determination to not let what is a very special environment get spoiled just because of one or two incidents or people. We have a special environment, we want to maintain that. We faced some challenges, we'll learn from that."
If fate was a roll of the die, Rajasthan bust out in the IPL, but rolled double sixes in the CLT20. They were too play every Group A league match at the same Sawai Mansingh Stadium that had become a home away from home for the players, and if they top the group, they'll play the semifinal at home too.
Dravid admitted that "topping the group and playing in home conditions would be the No.1 scenario" for his team.
There's also a logistical advantage, with the first semifinal in Jaipur on October 4, the second in Delhi the next day, and the final scheduled for October 6, also in Delhi. That gives the winner of the first semifinal an extra day to recover, and while it will involve travel, Jaipur to Delhi is an hour by air.
There might still be the question of adjusting to the traditionally lower and slower track at the Feroz Shah Kotla, very different from the pacy strips Rajasthan have made such good use of in Jaipur. But Watson, for one, doesn't believe that will be a problem for the batsmen to adjust to.
"There's no doubt that in Jaipur, the wicket is more conducive to pace and bounce, which is what I grew up playing on," said Watson. "But I've certainly got the game to be able to put some pressure on the spinners if the wicket turns a bit more. We've also got a number of very good players of spin in our team like Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny - so it certainly won't be just up to me to do it and take the spinners on."
Watson, who had stopped bowling for a while due to injuries, resumed bowling during IPL VI and has continued to bowl in international cricket after that. He said Rajasthan's schedule at the start of CLT20, with gaps of three days between games, had helped him maintain fitness. "My body's been going really well over the last six months to be able to get through the amount of bowling that I have. The break that I had (from bowling) leading up to the IPL was exactly what I needed to give my body a bit of a rest as well. Three days between every game is perfect to be able to make sure you're nice and fresh going into every game. I know once it gets to the latter part, this tournament speeds up quite quickly, but that's part and parcel of playing like we do."
While Watson remains one of the pillars of Rajasthan's strength and success, Paddy Upton, the coach, said not cutting corners and humility in success and defeat were the foundations of the franchise. "We are humble in our victory, if we lose we are still humble in that we don't get too upset," explained Upton. "We pride ourselves on being professional and leaving no stone unturned in our preparation. We don't take shortcuts because we are doing well."
Upton said the team had built an environment of constant learning and improving, even if it was by just "one or two percent" after every game. "The moment we sit still, we see that as cutting corners. We just have a culture that we don't cut corners."
The one percenters have added up like bank deposits, and slowly but surely, Rajasthan have emerged from the spot-fixing scandal still united, still learning, and still capable of pulling off a surprise or two against teams with bigger stars.