IT IS a tough one to call, this Ranji Trophy final. Both teams - to use a very clichéd term - are evenly matched, have players who can turn around a game around in a flash, and have put in some brilliant performances over the course of the season.
On one side, there is Delhi. They haven't lost a single game this season, have confounded almost everyone by reaching this far and have gelled together as a unit remarkably well. So, that would make them favourites for the title, right?
Well, not quite. Standing between Delhi and their seventh Ranji title is Uttar Pradesh - another team that has produced the goods just when required. Though Kaif's team didn't have a particular great start to the season, they turned it around in style to, first top their group and then, beat Saurashtra in the semi-final. And now stand a great chance of winning only their second Ranji title. So, the stage seems all set for a closely contested final, between two teams who have very similar strengths and have backed those strengths up right throughout the season to reach this far.
Another common factor that binds the two teams is the fact that they weren't too many people's most likely finalists when the season had started. Delhi had been expected to make up the numbers, fight to stave off relegation and have a season mired in controversy. UP, on the other hand, despite having won the title as recently as 2005-06, were not favourites to come through a group containing the likes of Bengal and Baroda.
But the season didn't quite pan out that way, as both Delhi and UP threw the formbook out of the window to defeat fancied opposition and earn a right to fight for the title.
At first glance, the crucial factor, which could well determine the outcome of the game, is who wins the battle between the Delhi batting and the Uttar Pradesh bowling. Delhi have always had an imposing batting line-up, and it has finally justified its billing as the strongest in the country this season. All the batsmen have been among the runs, with each of the top six scoring at least a century each in the course of the season. The opening combination of Aakash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir is undoubtedly one of the best opening partnerships in the country, if not the best, and provide the perfect platform for the middle-order. This Delhi line-up, however, will have its task cut out against the UP attack.
The UP seamers, led by Praveen Kumar and Sudeep Tyagi, have been running through sides with alarming regularity and are capable of posing some very difficult questions to the Delhi batsmen. Add to that leggie Piyush Chawla, and it looks like a very deadly attack.
On a Wankhede wicket, which has a fair covering of grass on it and should assist the faster men early in the day, UP's new ball pairing can cause some very heavy damage to Delhi and their title hopes.
Having said that, though, Delhi too have a potent bowling attack, one that has been bolstered by the return of India u-19 star Pradeep Sangwan. Sangwan will undoubtedly return to the eleven, with either Sumit Narwal or Amit Bhandari sitting out. Kaif and Suresh Raina have been shouldering the bulk of UP's batting load this season and the duo would be hoping to negate the threat Sangwan & Co come Wednesday.
This final has all the makings of a very close contest between two equals, two teams, who apart from so many other things, also happen to share the same sponsor!