Big match comes to DY Patil stadium
The Dr DY Patil Sports Stadium in Navi Mumbai was involved in a controversy last month for hosting England Lions for a fortnight without the requisite clearances from the BCCI and Mumbai Cricket Association. It led to the stadium being stripped off two Women's World Cup matches it was scheduled to host in February 2013.
But on Friday, as Mumbai and Gujarat practised on either side of the main stadium on the eve of their crucial Ranji Trophy Group A match, parity was restored for the hardworking staff and volunteers (read students of the DY Patil university).
While the wandering students in the campus could catch a glimpse of Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar - two of the biggest names in Mumbai cricket - they missed out getting photographed with Parthiv Patel, who still comes across as a wonder boy a decade after making his international debut as a teenager. Not because Parthiv didn't turn up for the training but because his team was preparing in the nets that were not as accessible as the Mumbai ones.
Similar to their Ranji campaign, in which they have silently marched to the second spot, the Gujarat players went about their practice unnoticed. But they were focused as they have been all along the season. Under the watchful eyes of coach Mukund Parmar, Parthiv's men had a prolonged net session. And with most of the squad members being under-25, they didn't mind putting in the extra yards.
"It was a conscious decision at the beginning of the season to build a team of youngsters," Parthiv said of his team's excellent campaign so far. "And it wasn't as if we were not expecting ourselves to do well. We believed in our abilities and the results are there for everyone to see."
The game changer for Gujarat has been left-arm spinner Rakesh Dhurv, who was imported from adjoining Saurashtra as a professional. And Dhurv has justified the faith put in by the Gujarat selectors by emerging as the most successful spinner this Ranji season with a tally of 35 wickets at 23.57 apiece. "We lacked a quality spinner, so it was decided to bring on Rakesh and he has delivered by taking all those wickets. That has made a big impact."
Mumbai, the home side, is pleased this time to see a green-top after having been given two disappointing pitches at the Wankhede and Agarkar, the Mumbai captain, is happy that the team's chances are in their control.
"That [the scenario] is something that augurs well for us," Agarkar said. "We know that our future depends on what we do. If we win, we are through. We don't have to wait for some other results to go our way."
The match is set up nicely. Both teams are coming into the game with wins under their belt - Gujarat having surprised table-toppers Punjab and Mumbai clinching a thriller against Madhya Pradesh. Gujarat has 21 points to Mumbai's 20 and even if the match doesn't see a result, the side that pockets three first-innings-lead points is assured of a spot in the quarter-finals. An intense battle awaits and it's just the tonic the organisers at the stadium needed.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo