Mumbai receive Jaffer boost
With no outright victory after three league games, Mumbai received a fillip as Wasim Jaffer made himself available for the first time this season on the eve of their Group A match against Bengal, which starts at the Brabourne Stadium on Saturday.
Jaffer, who relinquished the captaincy at the end of last year's campaign after leading Mumbai for four Ranji Trophy seasons, had missed the initial phase of this season because he was on Haj. He appeared relaxed during a prolonged batting stint during Mumbai's training on Friday.
Jaffer is an opening batsman who had moved to the middle order for the last few seasons to help the balance of the Mumbai side, but he is now set to return to the top of the order.
"Obviously he [Jaffer] will open the batting," Rohit Sharma, who is standing in as captain for Ajit Agarkar, said. "He is a big boost to our batting unit. He brings with him such huge experience and skill. Hopefully, he will start scoring runs for us straightaway."
After beginning the season by earning three points against Railways and Rajasthan on the basis of the first-innings lead, Mumbai had a shocking game in Hyderabad last week. The 39-time champions conceded the lead to a side that didn't have any high-profile players. As a result, Mumbai are third out of nine teams with seven points, two points separating them and the bottom-placed Hyderabad.
If Jaffer makes big runs against Bengal, not only will he resurrect Mumbai's inconsistent campaign but also start his mission of reclaiming the record of being the highest run-scorer in the Ranji Trophy. Amol Muzumdar overhauled Jaffer's tally of 8320 runs earlier in the season.
Muzumdar started the season 82 runs behind Jaffer but in the Mumbai batsman's absence Muzumdar overtook Jaffer and stretched the gap to 197 going into Saturday's games. If Jaffer gets his eye in, he could wipe out the deficit in a match and Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary was wary of that.
"He is such a big player in domestic cricket and has proven himself in international arena. We know that once he gets set, he invariably tends to score a big hundred," Tiwary said of Jaffer. "But we will have to get him to nick one early. And we have the bowlers who can succeed."
Mumbai will have to make do without Agarkar, who was appointed captain for the first four games of the season but has already missed two. Agarkar, who strained his calf during the season opener against Railways, bowled for some time in the nets on Friday but was far from his best.
"Agarkar is not going to play as he hasn't recovered yet. He feels he needs to bowl a lot more. He wants to be rested for one more game," said Rohit, who was hit on his right forearm by an Aavishkar Salvi delivery while batting. "My forearm is ok. There's a small niggle but I should be fit to play tomorrow."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo