Mumbai: Saurashtra will be chasing their maiden Ranji Trophy title when they take on Mumbai in the final at the Wankhede Stadium from Saturday. The Jaydev Shah-led side has had a superb journey so far, winning three, drawing five and losing just one of the nine matches they played this season. But they are up against the Big Boys of Indian domestic circuit, who are known to bring out their best when the chips are down. Their record of 39 Ranji titles is impeccable and the presence of Sachin Tendulkar gives Mumbai a chance to add another trophy to their cabinet.
Saurastra have shown this season that they are no pushovers and given a chance they can surprise even the best. And although they will miss the services of two of their premier players - Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja - they still have the firepower to give Mumbai a run for their money. Their batting hinges on the shoulders of veteran Shitanshu Kotak, who described the final as the "biggest match of his career". The 40-year-old, the oldest player actively involved in domestic cricket this season, had frustrated Mumbai before as he batted for nearly 800 minutes to make 168 when the two teams met in the quarter-finals at the same venue in 2007.
Apart from Kotak, Saurashtra's other batsmen, comprising Sheldon Jackson (742 at 67.45), Kamlesh Makvana (511 at 63.87), Aarpit Vasavada (544 at 49.45), and Sagar Jogiyani (618 at 44.14) have also been amongst runs. But this time they face an attack which will test them to the hilt. Saurashtra’s bowlers too have been disciplined and picked up wickets when the situation demanded. Jaydev Unadkat, with his left-arm medium pace, has scalped 20 wickets, while Makvana, along with his exploits with the bat, has also taken 21 wickets - the second best after 24 wickets by Ravindra Jadeja. Vishal Joshi played a key role in team's victory against Punjab in the semi-finals, picking up nine wickets. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, the rookie left-arm spinner, gives more variety to the team.
And despite playing their biggest match of their careers, the Saurashtra players are not overawed by the situation and want to treat the final as just another game. "Yes, this is by far the biggest match we have played, but we are up for the challenge,” Shah, the Saurashtra captain, said on Friday. “They [Mumbai] have big players, but we’ll give them a tough fight if we play the manner we have been doing this season.”
Ajit Agarkar, too, looked extremely confident ahead of the big game, saying it’s been a topsy-turvy ride for them so far, but they have picked up at the right moment. “We just managed to scrape through in the earlier matches, but I think we have picked up just at the right time,” he said after the practice session on Friday. He also said Tendulkar joined the side when the team was looking for an inspiration. “He [Tendulkar] joined us just at the right time. We needed him and he is making it count.”
Tendulkar has been amongst runs in all three matches he has played so far. In the season opener against Railways, he made 137 in a bid to get ready for the Tests against England. Following his retirement, he scored 108 and 9 in the quarter-final draw with Baroda and 56 in the semi-final win over Services. And how he fares in the final could well be the difference between the two sides.
Abhishek Nayar too has been extremely impressive this season, scoring 940 runs in 10 games at an average of 104 and taken 16 wickets. Wasim Jaffer (703 at 70.30), Hiken Shah (718 at 55.23), Aditya Tare (839 at 52.43) and Kaustubh Pawar (583 at 48.53) too have contributed with the bat.
While Saurastra are slightly superior in the spin department, Mumbai hold a little edge as far the pace bowling goes. Agarkar has the guile and pace to surprise batsmen, while Dhawal Kulkarni is more about line and length. Agarkar has although picked up 12 wickets this season and has knitted the whole team together. Five of Kulkarni's 21 wickets have come in the semi-final when he ran through the Services' batting.
Mumbai may replace Shardul Thakur with Javed Khan as team's third medium pacer. Javed has played one game more than Thakur this season and picked up ten wickets in comparison to Thakur's four. Ankit Chavan, the tall left-arm spinner who is the most successful of the Mumbai bowlers with 33 wickets in nine matches, too will have a role to play when the pitch, which is expected to assist seamers more, starts taking turn later in the game.
Mumbai: 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Kaustubh Pawar, 3 Hiken Shah, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Abhishek Nayar, 6 Aditya Tare (wk), 7 Ankit Chavan, 8 Ajit Agarkar (capt), 9 Dhawal Kulkarni, 10 Javed Khan/Sharad Thakur, 11 Vishal Dabholkar
Saurashtra: 1 bSitanshu Kotak, 2 Sagar Jogiyani, 3 Rahul Dave, 4 Jaydev Shah (capt/wk), 5 Sheldon Jackson, 6 Aarpit Vasavada, 7 Kamlesh Makvana, 8 Vishal Joshi, 9 Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, 11 Siddharth Trivedi