Zaheer set to lead Mumbai
Zaheer Khan is set to become Mumbai's 41st captain because a groin strain is likely to rule out regular captain Ajit Agarkar from their Group A Ranji Trophy match against Gujarat, beginning on Saturday at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Both Zaheer, who bowled 40 overs to help Mumbai win their first game of the season, and Agarkar, who pulled his groin on the last day of that game, were doubtful starters at the beginning of Mumbai's practice on the eve of the Gujarat game. However, with Mumbai needing to secure at least three points to progress to the next stage of the Ranji Trophy, it was a relief that Zaheer didn't feel any pain during his spell in the nets.
Agarkar, on the other hand, preferred not to bowl, like he has been doing on most pre-match days. Taking into consideration the importance of the game, the Mumbai team management decided it wasn't worth risking a player in a big match. "There's no point in taking a risk of going in with a half-fit bowler," a source told ESPNcricinfo. "If he breaks down in the middle of the match, it could cost the team dearly."
In Agarkar's absence earlier in the season, middle-order batsman Rohit Sharma had captained Mumbai. However, with Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane playing for India's Twenty20 team, Zaheer was the obvious choice to lead.
When Zaheer walks out for the toss on Saturday morning, it may come as a shock to his Gujarat counterpart Parthiv Patel, because Agarkar had attended the captains' meeting on Friday. It will be a proud moment for Zaheer, though. He had shifted to Mumbai from Shrirampur, a village in Maharashtra, as a teenager, and was a part of the squad for the 1995-96 Ranji Trophy knockouts.
However, a lack of opportunities forced him to break away from Mumbai and join Baroda. His exploits with Baroda not only helped the team lift the Ranji title in 2000-01 but also led to him making his international debut. Since returning to Mumbai in 2006-07, Zaheer has taken 43 wickets in nine games.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo