Injured Zaheer likely to miss Ranji quarter-final
Zaheer Khan, who made his captaincy debut during Mumbai's last Ranji Trophy Group A game against Gujarat that ended in a draw, is almost certain to miss the quarter-final against Baroda at the Wankhede Stadium from January 6. It was the recurrence of the right calf strain that prevented him from taking the field during Gujarat's second innings.
Following the draw, Mumbai finished with 23 points from eight games. This meant they were placed third in Group A. If they progress to the semi-finals, they will face either Uttar Pradesh or Services.
Mumbai entered the Gujarat game needing at least three points, via a first-innings lead. As a result, Zaheer, who had hurt his right calf during his marathon spell on the last day of their thrilling victory against Madhya Pradesh in Indore, bowled a long spell in the second session of the first day. Due to the eight-over spell - which meant he had bowled 17 overs in the first two sessions - he was seen frequently stretching his calf.
He looked uncomfortable even during his half-hour stay at the crease as the last batsman for Mumbai on the third day. However, once Mumbai were assured of a place in the quarter-finals, thanks to a 203-run first-innings lead, Zaheer preferred to stay indoors during Gujarat's second innings.
Not once did Zaheer walk out to field, let alone bowl, during the second innings that lasted just over 100 overs. Though the Mumbai team management has officially maintained that Zaheer "preferred to take it easy", ESPNcricinfo understands that he is "all but ruled out of the quarter-finals."
It would come as a disappointment for Zaheer, not just because he was finding some rhythm since being dropped from the Indian team after a lacklustre outing during the England Tests but also because he would have been facing Baroda, his former domestic team.
The good thing for Mumbai is that their regular captain Ajit Agarkar, who missed the Gujarat game due to a sore groin, will be back in action. Agarkar has missed four games this season due to a variety of fitness-related issues. If Sachin Tendulkar makes himself available for the knockout stage, as stated last week by Mumbai Cricket Association joint secretary Nitin Dalal, that will be the biggest boost for Mumbai, especially in the wake of Zaheer's likely absence.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo