Mumbai favourites against plucky Saurashtra
January 26-30, Mumbai
Start time 0930 (0400 GMT)
Heading towards the Wankhede Stadium, there is little sign that the biggest first-class match in the domestic calendar is about to begin. Instead, on the walk up to the stadium, you are greeted by a series of posters advertising the Hockey India League going on at the adjacent hockey ground. Even inside the Wankhede there are more logos of the Women's World Cup, which was shifted out of the ground at the last minute, than the Ranji Trophy.
Saurashtra, though, need no reminders about how big a game this is. This is the first time they have made it to the title clash since independence, since the time they took up their present name back in 1950-51. Their title wins in the Ranji came when one of their previous incarnations, Nawanagar, triumphed in their debut season in 1936-37 and another team which included players from the region, Western India States Cricket Association, in 1943-44. Their most experienced player, Shitanshu Kotak, has the unwanted record of being the highest Ranji run-getter without having won the title.
One key member of their set-up who has been involved in a Ranji final is long-standing coach Debu Mitra, who played in 1968-69, losing to Mumbai. Ahead of this year's final, he says his advice to the Saurashtra players has been: "Just go and play another match, that's all."
Mitra's words are an attempt to reduce the sense of occasion for his players, but for several men in the Mumbai team, this is just another match. The captain, Ajit Agarkar, has won six Ranji titles, Wasim Jaffer has seven, and they also have Sachin Tendulkar. Add to that Mumbai's awesome record in Ranji finals - 39 titles in 43 attempts - and it becomes clear why the home side are overwhelming favourites despite a less than stellar league campaign this season.
Both sides are missing two batsmen who pile up the runs in domestic circuit, but while Mumbai have the depth in talent to absorb the loss of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, Saurashtra's bench is less robust and the absence of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja affects them severely.
Two areas where Saurashtra can feel they have an edge over Mumbai are fielding and spin bowling. While Mumbai have shelled plenty of catches this season - notably Kshemal Waingankar grassing a sitter from Wriddhiman Saha to allow Bengal a draw, the seven chances turfed against Punjab, and Iqbal Abdulla putting down last man Ishwar Pandey in the nerve-jangling seven-run win over Madhya Pradesh, Saurashtra have been sharper in the field. Mitra even credited the run-out of Uday Kaul in the first innings as the turning point of the semi-final against Punjab.
Also, their spinners - Kamlesh Makwana, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Vishal Joshi - have all played key roles in Saurashtra's progress this season, while Mumbai have had little variety in the spin department after the injury to Ramesh Powar, with Ankeet Chavan sometimes playing as the lone slow bowler.
Still, there will be few willing to bet against Mumbai taking title No. 40 next week.
Mumbai DDDWD (Most recent first)
Players to watch
Sheldon Jackson made his Saurashtra debut back in 2006, but before this season he had played only a solitary first-class match. He's making up for the lost time with a series of crucial knocks: on a difficult track in Rajkot, when almost everyone else struggled to make runs, he hit a century to earn an outright win over Bengal; he came up with big runs in the quarter-final against Karnataka; and in the semi-final, there was a century in the first innings and an unbeaten 44 in the second when the rest of the batting keeled over. Saurashtra need another big effort from him in the final.
As in almost every match that Tendulkar has played, he will again be the star attraction. It is a rare occasion when he fails in the Ranji Trophy, and he will add one more record to his glittering career if he scores a century in the final - that will take him level with Sunil Gavaskar for most first-class centuries by an Indian, with 81.
Rooting for Mumbai from up here in the mountains. Good luck boys! Bring the cup home. #RanjiTrophyFinals— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) January 25, 2013
Agarkar said he didn't think there would be any changes in the Mumbai XI from the semi-final game over Services.
Mumbai (likely) 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Kaustubh Pawar, 3 Hiken Shah, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Abhishek Nayar, 6 Aditya Tare (wk), 7 Ankeet Chavan, 8 Ajit Agarkar (capt), 9 Dhawal Kulkarni, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Vishal Dabholkar
Saurashtra are likely to make one change to their side, leaving out one of their three spinners to bring in a quick bowler.
Saurashtra (likely) 1 Shitanshu Kotak, 2 Sagar Jogiyani (wk), 3 Rahul Dave, 4 Jaydev Shah (capt), 5 Sheldon Jackson, 6 Aarpit Vasavada, 7 Kamlesh Makvana, 8 Vishal Joshi, 9 Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Chirag Jani, 11 Siddharth Trivedi
Pitch and conditionsJanuary is among the most pleasant of months in Mumbai, with the temperature perfect for playing cricket. The surface at the Wankhede this season for Ranji matches has been batting-friendly but the curators have had very little time to prepare the track as the venue for the final was only decided a few days ago. Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah expected the pitch to provide more assistance for the quick bowlers than for the spinners.
Stats and trivia
- Sachin Tendulkar in Ranji finals at the Wankhede: 47 and 96 (1991), 140 and 139 (1995), 53 and 128 (2000), and 105 and 43 (2007)
- A century for Wasim Jaffer will give him the most hundreds in the Ranji Trophy, taking him past Ajay Sharma on 31 and will also help him reclaim the record for most Ranji runs
Quotes"I suppose it comes with experience as we have got more than one guy who has played more than one final. That generally helps in winning big games."
Ajit Agarkar underlines what gives Mumbai a big edge in the final
"Against Bombay you always need to score big runs and then put pressure at the start as if they don't get a good start, they sometimes collapse."
Jaydev Shah on how Mumbai can be brought down
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo