The second semi-final of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy, starting from January 16, is a clash of two teams which have performed in sharp contrast to their reputations this year to set a contest to qualify for the final. Defying all odds, Services put up a remarkable performance in the season to reach the semi-final after a hiatus of 44 years. The finished at the top of the Group C points table and stunned a strong Uttar Pradesh side in the quarter-final with a five-wicket win.
Mumbai, who have won the Ranji Trophy for a record 39 times, started the season on a tepid note by playing out six draws on the trot before beating Madhya Pradesh by seven runs in a humdinger to gain steam. They took the first-innings lead in their last league match against Gujarat, who were competing to qualify for the knockouts, and edged them out of the competition. Sachin Tendulkar made himself available for the knockouts and scored a century as Mumbai outclassed Baroda in the quarter-final on the basis of the first-innings lead.
For Services, Rajat Paliwal, Yashpal Singh, Suraj Yadav and Shadab Nazar have been the major force behind the team's success. Paliwal has four centuries and two half-centuries for a total of 773 runs at 85.88 this season while Yashpal has 732 runs at 73.20. In the quarter-final against UP, Paliwal scored 112 and an unbeaten 32 to engineer a historical victory. Among the bowlers, Suraj has snared 41 scalps in nine matches including a nine-wicket haul in the quarter-final. Nazar made his first-class debut this season and has 31 wickets.
However, the home team will miss their regular captain Soumik, who ruled out due to a knee injury.
Soumik led from the front and chipped in vital contributions at crucial times. His unbeaten 34 against UP came at a time when Services were wobbling at 54 for 5 chasing 113. He showed creditable courage and batted on one leg while battling with a knee injury. Due to the injury, the 24-year-old skipper is doubtful for the Mumbai clash, a source said. Soumya Ranjan Swain may get a chance to lead the Services team.
Hiken Shah and Abhishek Nayar have been instrumental in Mumbai reaching the semi-finals. Nayar has plundered 870 runs at 108.75 with three centuries and seven fifties while Shah came to his team's rescue on many occasions this year. He has 718 runs with three centuries. Kaustubh Pawar is the find of the season for Mumbai and has occupied the opening slot with distinction. Wasim Jaffer joined the team in the middle of the season and made his experience count by unfurling a string of resourceful innings. His 150 against Baroda in the quarter-final paved the way for Mumbai to take the lead. Rohit Sharma's unavailability due to national duties is a bit of a downer but Mumbai have enough artillery in their batting to make up for that.
Bowling is a huge worry for Mumbai as barring Ankit Chavan no other bowler has done anything of note. Chavan, too, has been inconsistent and shone only in spurts. Zaheer Khan won Mumbai their only outright victory of the season by grabbing a five-wicket haul but he has been ruled out of the semi-final due to a calf strain. Mumbai will bank on skipper Ajit Agarkar and Dhawal Kulkarni to rise to the occasion on a seam-friendly wicket at Palam.
Going by past records and the experience quotient, Mumbai surely look a much-better side on paper with the presence of stalwarts like Tendulkar, Jaffer and Agarkar but Services are a young, vibrant team throbbing with desire to rewrite the history books. They have an advantage of home conditions where they excelled during the league matches.
Mumbai: Ajit Agarkar (c), Aditya Tare (wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Ankeet Chavan, Wasim Jaffer, Suryakumar Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Kaustubh Pawar, Shardul Thakur, Abhishek Nayar, Hiken Shah
Services: Soumik Chatterjee (c), Sarabjit Singh (wk), Nakul Verma, Anshul Gupta, Avishek Sinha, Yashpal Singh, Rajat Paliwal, Suraj Yadav, Nishan Singh, Shadab Nazar, Soumya Swain