Mumbai, Jan 25: Past record, home conditions and the presence of stalwart Sachin Tendulkar put Mumbai as firm favourites to clinch the Ranji Trophy for the 40th time as they clash with first-time finalists Saurashtra at the Wankhede Stadium from Saturday (January 26).
In a record 44th final, Mumbai know how to win the big games. It will be all about their experience against Saurashtra, who will be missing two of their main players - Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja due to India duty. Jadeja is Saurashtra's leader with the bat scoring 794 runs with two triple hundreds this season.
Mumbai too will be without the services of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, also in India squad for England One Day Internationals. But they will not be missed as much as Saurashtra duo.
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has already refused to release the four players for the final. Mumbai's bowling will be poorer without the injured Zaheer Khan.
With all factors considered, Mumbai have the wherewithal to power to the title. They have lost only four finals in 43 appearances before this.
Saurashtra, through hard work, have entered their first ever final. However, previously, this region was represented by Nawanagar when they last reached title round in 1937-38.
Tendulkar is on the threshold of two important milestones. He is 126 runs short of becoming India's second batsman to score 25,000 runs behind Sunil Gavaskar. Also Tendulkar with a century will equal Indian record of 81 tons in first-class cricket, owned by Gavaskar.
The Master Blaster holds a great record at Wankhede Stadium. He has already played four finals here and has four centuries. And Mumbai won three of them and fell short by two runs in the other. This will be Tendulkar's sixth Ranji Trophy final.
Left-hander Abhishek Nayar is Mumbai's leading run scorer with 940 runs from 10 matches at an average over 104. He has three centuries and eight half tons. Nayar will be hoping to come good one last time this season and seal the title.
Saurashtra will look to Sheldon Jackson (742 runs from 8 matches) for the big runs again. In bowling, pacemen Jaydev Unadkat and Siddarth Trivedi will be the key. Off-spinners Vishal Doshi and Kamlesh Makwana will be keen to get some turn on the final two days as the curator Sudhir Naik feels it will assist spinners. Naik said the first three days would help pacemen and there would be bounce and seam movement.
Left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan is Mumbai's leading wicket-taker with 33 victims followed by paceman Dhawal Kulkarni (21). Nayar has 16. Captain Ajit Agarkar has 12 scalps.
On the eve of the match, Agarkar said they are not underestimating Saurashtra.
"I am very happy with the way it has gone for us, from struggling a bit to qualifying and being in the final. Saurashtra, obviously, is a tough opposition who we cannot underestimate," said Agarkar.
"It's a one-off game and we need to be at our best. Looking forward to the game," he added.
Saurashtra skipper, Jaydev Shah, said that it was very important for his team to get off to a flying start. "It's a very big game for us. Mumbai is an experienced side. We would like to get a good start and put in best effort in the first innings)."
"This is big game for us. It's a pressure game. Personally, I think we should play like another Ranji Trophy game and try out best. But if we get a grip on the match, we have to make sure, we don't lose it," said veteran Saurashtra batsman Sitanshu Kotak.
Over the next five days, Mumbai are expected to hold sway at home but Saurashtra will be hoping for an upset.
Mumbai: Ajit Agarkar (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Jaffer, Suryakumar Yadav, Dhaval Kulkarni, Kaustubh Pawar, Abhishek Nayar, Hiken Shah, Aditya Tare, Ankit Chavan, Nikhil Patil (Jr.), Javed Khan, Sushant Marathe, Shardul Thakur and Vishal Dabholkar.
Saurashtra: Jaydev Shah (captain), Sagar Jogiyani, Sitanshu Kotak, Sheldon Jackson, Arpit Vasavada, Rahul Dave, Kamlesh Makwana, Chirag Pathak, Sidharth Trivedi, Jaydev Unadkat, Vishal Joshi, Dharmendra Jadeja, Sandip Maniyar, Saurya Sanandiya and Harsh Anghan.
Umpires: K Hariharan and O Nandan
Third umpire: Virender Sharma
Match Referee: Col. Chinmaya Sharma.
Match starts at 9.30 AM