Bolstered by the inclusion of Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan, Mumbai will start favourites against Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy semifinal starting here on Sunday.
Besides the presence of the two stars, Mumbai have beaten their opponents in style this season. They are the in-form team and each of their six victories in the last eight games have been by big margins. Their batsmen are in peak form, with the competition's top two run-getters being from the team — Ajinkya Rahane (976 runs) and Wasim Jaffer (873). They also have the third-highest wicket-taker in Dhawal Kulkarni (34).
The return to form of Ajit Agarkar with five wickets in the second innings of the quarterfinal against Himachal Pradesh and Abhishek Nayar proving a point with both bat and ball were encouraging news for the 37-time champions.
Also, the match is being played at Tendulkar's favourite venue, the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, where on his last visit, the master produced a masterly 103 not out to steer India to victory against England less than three weeks ago.
Saurashtra, who as Nawanagar won their only Ranji Trophy in the mid 1930s, have nothing to lose. It is to their credit that this bunch of happy-go-lucky cricketers has made it to their second successive semifinal without an international star in their line-up.
But they do have two promising talents in Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja. Pujara had a rousing run in the first four rounds of the Super League, amassing 675 runs before hitting a low. Pujara returned to form with an unbeaten 112 that helped his side beat Karnataka in quarters.
20-year-old Jadeja is the best all-rounder in the country today, having garnered 729 runs and picked 39 sticks. Saurashtra are determined to give '200 per cent', as their captain Jaydev Shah had said on match eve. Their experienced batsman Sitanshu Kotak summed up the situation: "The moment the ball leaves Zaheer's hand, it is just another delivery. We have to play the ball, not the bowler."
Mumbai: W Jaffer (captain), V Samant (wk), A Rahane, S Tendulkar, R Sharma, A Nayar, S Bahutule, R Powar, A Agarkar, D Kulkarni, Z Khan, A Muzumdar.
Saurashtra: J Shah (captain), B Chauhan, C Pathak, C Pujara, S Kotak, R Jadeja, S Jogiyani (wk), R Dhruv, S Jobanputra, B Jadeja, J Odedara, S Jackson, K Makvana, V Joshi and A Vasavada.