Tamil Nadu meet their nemesis ... again
The history of Tamil Nadu, or Madras as it was formerly known, in the Ranji Trophy has been one of underachievement. For a state that has been a nursery of talent over the decades to have won just two titles, in 1955 and 1988, is an aberration. Whatever the reasons, there has been one prominent hurdle that has perennially cropped up. Over the years Mumbai - or Bombay as they were before - have been a thorn that has pricked them at crucial stages. And recently, that thorn has become a dagger that has really hurt.
In the semi-final in April 2000, they were thwarted by the genius of one man. After posting 485, Tamil Nadu reduced Mumbai to 266 for 5. That was when Sachin Tendulkar made time stand still, and stabbed them with a breathtaking 233. In last season's final, in May, they went one step further and gained a first-innings lead. But they allowed Mumbai to pile on 387 in the second innings, and the eventual target proved beyond their reach.
Tomorrow, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai will meet again in this year's Ranji Trophy final. Unlike the matches above, they will have home advantage this time. Chandrakant Pandit, Mumbai's coach, expects it to be a "heat struggle". Speaking to Wisden Cricinfo he said: "We have to cope with the hot conditions. Tamil Nadu will be used to playing in that weather. We have to match them in that aspect as well."
Mumbai's bowlers will need to adapt quickly, as they hold a distinct edge in this department. Munaf Patel and Avishkar Salvi have regularly dented top orders this season, Sairaj Bahutule has been a model of consistency all year with his legspin, and Nilesh Kulkarni's slow left-armers will provide the variety.
But Tamil Nadu's batting is just as formidable. Sadagoppan Ramesh, Sridharan Sriram, Sreedharan Sharath and Hemang Badani comprise arguably the best batting line-up in the country. Add to that Subramanium Badrinath, one of the highest run-getters this season, their captain Somsetty Suresh, and Dinesh Karthik, their young wicketkeeper who cracked 122 in the semi-final, and you have a glittering array of batting talent.
The bowling, though, lacks the bite of Mumbai's, and the effectiveness of Tamil Nadu's bowlers will have a significant effect on the final result. With the first Test of the India-Pakistan series starting on March 28, there will be no bubbling enthusiasm for this match. But neither team will be too concerned about that - they have more pressing matters on their mind.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo in India.