The Mumbai Ranji Trophy shirt has two logos on the chest. On the left is a lion, the emblem of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). On the right is an egg, the symbol of team sponsors National Egg Co-ordination Committee.
As the Ranji Trophy final against Bengal starts at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday, Mumbai must be hoping that their performance is more like the king of the jungle than the egg.
There is every possibility that the 36-time champions will roar past twice winners Bengal. The Wankhede stadium, the venue of the match, is their planet. Having won four matches in a row after failing to win a point in the first three, they have momentum.
Most importantly, they have four stars back in the team --- Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Ramesh Powar and “That Man”, as captain Amol Muzumdar described Sachin Tendulkar.
That Man didn’t show up for rehearsal on Thursday though, triggering doubts whether he would play. But then neither did Agarkar, Zaheer, Powar and Sourav Ganguly, the other India players named for the final practice. They were resting after Wednesday’s robust performance against the West Indies in Vadodara.
Muzumdar and Mumbai coach Pravin Amre stressed Tendulkar would play. Asked if he was in touch with him, Amre replied, “Yes, I am. He’s playing, of course.”
Muzumdar said Tendulkar’s presence would be one of the highlights of the experience for the Mumbai players.
“It’s going to be a spectacle with packed stands, which is something that happens whenever Tendulkar plays,” Muzumdar said.
On to other matters. Are Mumbai favourites?
“Well, we have India’s highest centurion playing for us, two leading pace bowlers, one of the country’s best spinners and talented youngsters like Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nair,” Amre, the former India batsman said. “It’s as balanced a side as could be.”
Muzumdar, highest scorer for Mumbai this season, was guarded. “I don’t want to comment,” he said when asked the question. The reply reflected MCA selector and managing committee member Milind Rege’s observation earlier in the morning. The former Mumbai captain had said that the Mumbai team ‘had-to-be-careful’.
“There is a chance of complacency when you have stars playing for you, but Amol realises the team cannot afford that,” Rege said. “That is what he has communicated to the team.”
Muzumdar’s respect for the opposition is valid. Over the last couple of seasons, Bengal have grown into a top side, as is illustrated by their second successive entry in to the Ranji final.
They have a bunch of young, confident players who respect reputations but are not cowed down by them. Ranadeb Bose, Sourav Sarkar and Ashok Dinda are bold representatives of the team’s bowling department. On the batting side, Bengal have the likes of Manoj Tiwary, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Rohan Gavaskar and of course, the defiant, larger-than-life Ganguly.
In wicket-keeper batsman Deep Dasgupta, who said on Thursday that he was likely to open the innings, they have a captain with international experience. Former India and Mumbai medium-pacer Paras Mhambrey makes for the ideal coach, given that he knows Mumbai cricket inside out.
“I know what Mumbai’s thinking is,” Mhambrey said. “Nonetheless, that’s of marginal help. You’ve got to play well. We’re ready to do that. It’s going to be a good final.”
Dasgupta shot down a query that raked up Bengal’s 0-5 head-to-head record against Mumbai in Ranji Trophy finals. “What 5-nil? What 6-nil?” he responded to a journalist who wanted to know whether Bengal would break the jinx or Mumbai improve their record. “I’m only thinking about this match.”
What about the pitch? Curator Sudhir Naik said that he has prepared a track identical to the one for the India-England Test last March. It is firm, will be the seamers’ friend initially and then take turn. Muzumdar expected significant carry, bounce and sideways movement from the track.
Exciting bowlers and batsmen on both sides, an energetic wicket, superstars like ‘That Man’ and Ganguly and an undercurrent of animus that is never acknowledged but always there … Looks like we are set for an intense, piss-and-vinegar scrap.