“Bring on Mumbai,” chorused the Saurashtra camp after learning on Monday that the 39-time Ranji Trophy champions stood in their way of a first title.
This is the first time in 75 years that Saurashtra have made it to the final of India’s most important domestic tournament, this after twice losing in the semifinals over the past five years.
Saurashtra had won the Ranji Trophy Plate division beating Rajasthan in 2005-06 and then made it to the semifinals of the Elite division in 2007-08 and 2008-09. On the last occasion they lost to Mumbai.
But the rivalry is not limited to just that. Coach Debu Mitra said in their last five meetings, Saurashtra beat Mumbai thrice. And despite the big names that would feature in their line-up including Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Jaffer, it will be Mumbai who would be under pressure in the final beginning on Saturday, he said.
Mitra, a former Bengal batsman who coached Sourav Ganguly and Devang Gandhi in their formative years, was part of the Bengal team that lost to Mumbai in the Ranji final in 1968-69.
“You can say the rivalry dates back to those days. It is already a great achievement for my boys. But winning it beating the traditional domestic powerhouses would be the icing on the cake,” he said on Monday.
This is Mitra’s 10th consecutive year as Saurashtra coach. “The players respect me. The management trusts me and while I am a very hard taskmaster in the field, off it I treat players like my friends. This has kept the team unified,” Mitra said.
“I have coached both Sourav and Devang and both played for India. I did not have to tell Sourav anything twice. But with Devang, I had to keep repeating instructions,” said Mitra.