Mumbai: Veteran Saurashtra batsman Sitanshu Kotak feels that the star-studded Mumbai side gunning for their 40th Ranji Trophy title will be favourites in the summit clash starting on Saturday.
"Mumbai is a big team with Sachin Tendulkar playing as well. Then there are players like (captain) Ajit Agarkar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Wasimbhai (Jaffer) and Abhishek Nayar. Mumbai is obviously a superior team; One can lie they are not, but the truth is they are a superior team," said the 40-year-old left-handed batsman.
"This is big game for us. It's a pressure game. Personally, I think we should play like another Ranji Trophy game and try out best. But if we get a grip on the match, we have to make sure, we don't lose it," said Kotak ahead of Saurashtra's maiden appearance in the summit contest.
Kotak, who had frustrated Mumbai by batting with monumental patience for nearly 800 minutes in making 168 when the two teams met at the same venue six years ago, said this was one way the visitors could frustrate the hosts again.
"I look at it in two ways. If you win the toss, the only way is to bat them out of the game and try and get them out once. Or if we field first, we have to try and utilise the wicket and dismiss the first five batsmen out quickly," he said.
Kotak was of the view that his team was superior in the spin department but also predicted that the Wankhede wicket may not offer much help to the slow bowlers.
"I personally think so because of the way we have performed on turning tracks or slow batting tracks. We have the variety.
"We have two offspinners (Kamlesh Makwana and Vishal Joshi). We have this young spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja. He got 40 plus wickets in the Under-25 tournament and 9 wickets in his debut match against Madhya Pardesh. But I am not sure if they will be useful on this wicket," said Kotak.
"Vishal (Joshi) is very dangerous on a turning track; he can turn the ball a long way, even on a slow track," said Kotak.
"But on a Wankhede wicket, with little bit grass on it, I would be surprised if the ball turns much in the first three or four days. I think the wicket would be lively for seam bowlers and probably the match would be decided by the third or fourth day," said the batsman, who has played 119 games for Saurashtra, since his debut in 1992-93.
Kotak, who has played 128 first-class games overall and amassed 7,982 runs, hailed his team's entry into the final for the first time as a "great achievement" and said over the last eight years things have looked bright for Saurashtra.
"It's a great achievement. I can't think of playing any bigger match than this Ranji final in my life. I think we have been improving in the last 15 years gradually. And in the last eight years, it has been getting better with outstanding players emerging like (Cheteshwar) Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat.
"Some more talented players are performing at the right time. I must also give credit to Mr Niranjan Shah (Saurashtra Cricket Association secretary) who has believed in maintaining stability in the team. He's not dropped players on the basis of failures in two or three matches. The selectors and coach have their views on performances, but Mr Shah has believed in stability of the team," said Kotak.
"We have good players like Sheldon Jackson, Aarpit Vasavada and Sagar Joigiyani - who has been there for a while now. This year Pujara scored a century and triple century and Ravindra Jadeja scored two triple centuries and took 24 wickets."
Kotak pointed out that India players Pujara and Jadeja had been outstanding, but they also got good support from the others.
"Even when they were available they needed support from the others and players like Jackson and Vasavada performed. In the bowling department when we needed wickets someone or the other stepped up his performance. That's the reason we are in the final."
While conceding his team would miss performing players Pujara and Jadeja, who are part of the India ODI squad taking on England, Kotak said the priority should be the interest of the national team and not Saurashtra's.
"Any team will miss them. If they are playing for India, that's fine. If the BCCI thinks that it has to look after the Indian team for the one-day team first, because we need to win 4-1 and that the team should regain its confidence, then that should be the priority.
Kotak was optimistic over Saurashtra's chances in the final if things went their way against a big team like Mumbai.
"Yes. We have the side. But we need things to go our way.
Mumbai is a stronger team but stronger teams do not always win. We have played them many times in the last five six years and we got the first innings lead three times. There is something positive for us to look at.
"We took the lead against Mumbai at Khanderi and the Race Course ground and also here at the Wankhede. So the record against Mumbai is not at all bad.
"Mumbai's batting is strong, but they also have Agarkar a big player and Dhawal (Kulkarni). I have always been impressed with Dhawal. He should have played more cricket at the highest level. He should have got more opportunities.
Kotak was confident his team's pace bowlers can deliver the goods.
"(Jaydev) Unadkat is very promising; he does bowl some outstanding deliveries that gets batsmen out; it's just a matter of happening. Siddharth Trivedi is an experienced hand, and so on this sort of wicket where there is a bit of carry, he will be more useful here than at Rajkot.
"Sandeep Maniar is also very experienced and also Saurya Sanandiya. We have options. We can play three seamers if need be, but that's for the coach and captain to decide."
Asked about his retirement plans, Kotak said his focus currently was the final game.
"I love the game and to play it. I don't have to announce my last match on the ground and have to declare it in such a big game. The focus is on winning the game. Retirement is an emotional thing and I don't want any emotion to dominate this match."