New Delhi, Jan 15: Sachin Tendulkar will be the centre of attraction as 39-time champions Mumbai take on the bravehearts from Services in the Ranji Trophy semi-final starting at the Palam Airforce ground on Wednesday.
Ajit Agarkar-led side start as overwhelming favourites but one can't count the institutional side out after their five-wicket victory over Uttar Pradesh.
On paper, Services are no match for Mumbai, whose line-up boasts of names like Tendulkar, domestic run-machine Wasim Jaffer, all-rounder Abhishek Nayar apart from two in-form youngsters in Hiken Shah and Kaustubh Pawar.
"I don't know about overwhelming but we are favourites. It might sound arrogant but we have played at this level so many times that it has become like this," skipper Agarkar told reporters after the team's training session.
Tendulkar faced a lot of throw downs after a delivery from left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar kept really low in the practice net and then he asked former India manager and SSCB secretary Air Commander Baladitya to increase the height of the sightscreen.
"Obviously, when you have a player of Sachin's calibre, it makes a lot of difference. Wasim has been our best batsmen for a few years now and our man for the season has been Nayar. It's also good to find that new boys like Hiken and Kaustubh are doing well," the skipper added.
For the Services side, playing a Ranji Trophy semi-final after more than five decades is a big achievement but Wing Commander Deepak Bhaskar, who is also team manager, said that boys are not overawed by the occasion.
"They (Mumbai) might have a lot of cricketing exposure but our boys are also battle-hardened professionals. They have garnered experience about life from their experiences in the defence. We are not overawed by Tendulkar's presence. In any case, we are the underdogs," Wing Commander Bhaskar said.
The Services are likely to miss their regular skipper Shoumik Chatterjee, who batted on one leg to win the quarterfinal against UP.
"Shoumik's innings was an example of self belief that our boys have. As a leader, he showed that nothing is impossible if you have the willpower. It would have been great if he could have played but our stand-in captain Soumya Ranjan Swain is also a tough man.
"Swain is the only player in the squad who was not recruited from sports quota. He was recruited as a soldier but he proved his mettle in the intra-services tourneys," Bhaskar further informed.
On the pitch, Bhaskar said, "We have followed the BCCI diktat of preparing a sporting pitch. Since it is a five-day game, you can expect an outright result from the tie."
Is Mumbai a bit complacent to have got an easy opponent in Services, Agarkar said, "A bit surprised as we were expecting UP. But then they (Services) must have done something right to come till here. Also, we have earlier lost to a Plate group team like Rajasthan which went on to become Ranji champions."
Services: Soumya Ranjan Swain (captain), Anshul Gupta, Nakul Verma, Pratik desai, Rajat Palliwal, Yashpal Singh, Sarabjit Singh, Abhishek Sinha, Suraj Yadav, Shadab Nazar, Penta Rao, Shakti Malviya, Mohammed Khaleed, Shoumik Chatterjee, Nishant Singh.
Mumbai: Ajit Agarkar (captain), Kaustubh Pawar, Wasim Jaffer, Hiken Shah, Sachin Tendulkar, Surya Kumar Yadav, Abhishek Nayar, Aditya Tare (wk), Javed Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni, Vishal Dabholkar, Ankeet Chavan, Nikhil Patil Jr, Shardul Thakur, Sushant Marathe.
Umpires: Subrat Das and Adrian Holdstock (South Africa)
Match Referee: B Kalyansundaram