Mumbai, the 39-time Ranji Trophy champions, will look to add another trophy to their cabinet when they host Baroda in the quarter-final from Sunday. It's not been a season to remember for the Ajit Agarkar-led side as they huffed and puffed in the league stage, drawing seven of their eight matches while winning just one, before making the knockout stage.
Mumbai's batsmen plundered runs, but their bowlers lacked the artillery to take 20 wickets on a regular basis. They got a big boost ahead of the clash as Sachin Tendulkar decided to play the encounter. It will be Tendulkar’s first game since he retired from limited-overs cricket. He played the team’s first game against Railways and scored a century. His presence will add firepower to the already strong Mumbai batting, despite the absence of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma.
But the unavailability of Zaheer Khan could be a big factor for the hosts. Zaheer's five-for played a vital role in their victory against Madhya Pradesh. And the absence of the veteran bowler means more burdens on skipper Agarkar and the other pacemen - Dhawal Kulkarni, Javed Khan and allrounder Abhishek Nayar.
Baroda are hoping to surprise the 39-time champions when the two teams meet in the quarter-final from January 6.
Nayar has been in a rich vein of form with both bat and ball, scoring the most runs for Mumbai - 730 at 121.66 - and picking up 16 wickets, second best after left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan's tally of 28. His versatility helps the side include an extra bowler or batsman to the side. It will be tough for the team management to replace Zaheer as the options available are too inexperienced. Shoaib Shaikh hasn’t played a first-class match yet, while Shardul Thakur has taken just one wicket in his two matches. Going with two pacers and two spinners, with Nayar being employed as a third seamer, could be the order of the day for Mumbai.
Baroda, too, have jostled their way through to the knockouts, winning two and drawing five of their eight matches. Ambati Rayudu has done a commendable job in leading the side after regular skipper Yusuf Pathan was ruled out the season with a finger injury. Rayudu's 558 runs at 50.75 are third highest by a Baroda batsman this season. Only Aditya Waghmode (584) and Abhimanyu Chauhan (566) have scored more runs than the acting skipper.
Medium-pacers Murtuja Vahora and Gagandeep Singh did well for the side in the absence of Irfan Pathan, who played just one game this season before being sidelined due to a knee injury. Vahora and Gagandeep have taken 22 and 18 wickets for the side respectively. Like Mumbai, the pick of the bowlers for Baroda has also been a left-arm spinner - Bhargav Bhatt. The 22-year-old has a leaked a few more runs, but his 24 wickets were instrumental in taking the side to the quarters.
Fans from both sides will hope to watch an exciting contest with Mumbai taking another step towards the 40th title while Baroda aiming to clinch their sixth Ranji Trophy.
Mumbai: 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Kaustubh Pawar, 3 Aditya Tare (wk), 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Hiken Shah, 6 Suryakumar Yadav, 7 Abhishek Nayar, 8 Ajit Agarkar (capt), 9 Ankeet Chavan, 10 Dhawal Kulkarni, 11 Javed Khan/Nikhil Patil
Baroda: 1 Saurabh Wakaskar, 2 Abhimanyu Chauhan, 3 Aditya Waghmode, 4 Ambati Rayudu (capt), 5 Kedar Devdhar, 6 Pinal Shah (wk), 7 Ketan Panchal, 8 Gagandeep Singh, 9 Ketul Patel, 10 Murtuja Vahora, 11 Bhargav Bhatt