Jaipur: Rajasthan vs Mumbai is probably the most sought after contest in Group A of this seson's Ranji Trophy. Rajasthan are the Ranji champions for the last two editions of the tournament and would like to prolong their dream run, while Mumbai have won the coveted trophy 39 times, most by any team, and have a strong team at their disposal.
Both the teams boast of a string of quality players who have a point or two to vindicate. Rajasthan's iconic opener Aakash Chopra, who was instrumental in their resounding success in the last two seasons, has moved to Himachal Pradesh to ply his trade. In his absence, Rajasthan were pummelled in the Irani Trophy by the Rest of India and Bengal exposed the vulnerability of their top order in Round 1 of the Ranji Trophy this year. Chopra's experience and expertise at the top were deeply missed and it would be an uphill challenge for Rajasthan to plug the void left by his departure.
Mumbai were knocked out in the quarter-finals and semi-finals in the last two seasons, a mediocre performance by their standards. But the team is gung-ho, as expounded by their captain Ajit Agarkar in an interview, to recapture the lost glory by winning the tournament.
After a tepid performance against Bengal in their opening game, Rajasthan need to lift their performance against Mumbai to gain the momentum. Their batting failed in both the innings but bowlers, led by Pankaj Singh, put up a spirited show. Rajasthan will bank on their opener Vineet Saxena, the second highest scorer last season, to provide them a solid start. Ankit Lamba is a fine talent but a bit too flashy. He needs to pull the plug on his tendency to play away from the body early in the innings and fritter away his wicket after scoring 20s and 30s.
Hrishikesh Kanitakar, Rajasthan's inspirational captain, bats at No. 3 and his role as a batsman has become more vital in Chopra's absence. Robin Bist is the fulcrum of their batting order. The 25-year-old racked up more than 1000 runs in the last edition and followed it up with brilliant centuries in Duleep Trophy and Irani Trophy to open the 2012-13 season. He's in sublime form and a serious contender for a place in the Indian Test side. Another terrific season might just do the trick for him and propel him to the Indian ranks. Ashok Menaria is emerging as a fine allrounder while Rashi Parida is a solid, dependable batsman.
Their bowling attack is led by Pankaj, who chiselled 9 wickets against Bengal in their first game. He has been bowling superbly for the last four years and would be a tough nut to crack for Mumbai. Rituraj Singh was the find of last season and looked upon as a promising fast bowler. Deepak Chahar faded after his exploits in the first season and he needs to get his act together to make a mark. Lack of a quality spinner in their ranks is a cause of concern for Rajasthan, though.
Mumbai were dominant against Railways in their first match but Sachin Tendulkar and Ajinkya Rahane have gone to serve Indian team and may not feature anymore this season. In the absence of Wasim Jaffer, their opening pair of Kaustubh Pawar and Aditya Tare looks inexperienced but their middle-order is formidable. Rohit Sharma had a torrid season in international cricket but at first-class level, he is a giant. Abhishek Nayar and Suryakumar Yadav are talented youngsters and a good season would enhance their stature and confidence.
Rohit will have the added responsibility of leading the Mumbai side against the defending champions after Agarkar was ruled out due to a calf injury that he picked up in the match against Railways. Kshemal Waingankar is expected to replace Agarkar and share the new ball with senior partner Dhawal Kulkarni, while left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla and offspinner Romesh Pawar will try to flummox Rajasthan with turn.
On paper, both teams look pretty balanced, though Mumbai have a slight edge in the bowling department. A sparkling performance in the match would boost the confidence of a dominant team and would be a perfect appetizer for the gruelling season ahead.
Rajasthan: Vineet Saxena, Ankit Lamba, Hrishikesh Kanitkar (c), Robin Bist, Ashok Menaria, Rashi Parida, Dishant Yagnik (wk), Pankaj Singh, Madhur Khatri, Rituraj Singh, Deepak Chahar
Mumbai XI: Aditya Tare (wk), Kaustubh Pawar, Suryakumar Yadav, Rohit Sharma (c), Abhishek Nayar, Akhil Herwadkar, Iqbal Abdulla, Ankeet Chavan, Romesh Pawar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Kshemal Waingankar