Mumbai v Saurashtra, Ranji Trophy, final, Mumbai January 25, 2013

Agarkar hoping for 'perfect game'

By no means have Mumbai had a smooth Ranji campaign. Qualification was a struggle, and even in the weather-disrupted semi-final against Services the lower order needed to score plenty to make Mumbai feel safe.

Still, they have shown flashes of what makes them such a dangerous opposition. Against Punjab, what seemed a pointless final day after the first-innings lead had been conceded, suddenly turned into a nail-biter after a tumultuous session with left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan routing one of the strongest batting line-ups in the country. Against Bengal, Abhishek Nayar produced a magic spell that almost conjured a victory when Bengal's openers seemed to have done enough to secure a draw. And they were at their dangerous best against Madhya Pradesh, when Zaheer Khan and Nayar pulled off a tense seven-run win.

That combination of a never-say-die spirit and a big-game temperament make Mumbai favourites for another Ranji title, but their captain Ajit Agarkar remained cautious. "Any opposition in the final is dangerous because it is a one-off thing," Agarkar said. "It is not like the league where there is a chance to come back, that's why you have to be at your best on all five days."

And he said there was plenty of room for improvement. "We've still not had a perfect game [this season], hopefully we can. Baroda was the closest that we got to having an easy game really after scoring 600, apart from that we've had to scrap a little bit in most games, we hope we don't have to do too much of that."

Agarkar underlined the familiarity with crunch situations as one of the reasons his team was confident. "You learn from experience, we have a few guys who have been in more than one final, that generally helps going into big games, plus we have the great man."

While Agarkar talked about not underestimating the opposition, Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah repeatedly talked about the need to not get carried away by the pressure of a title clash. "Play the normal cricket that you have been playing all season," he said, when asked what he had told the side ahead of the game. "I look at it as a very big opportunity for us, it is a big game for us, Mumbai is a very experienced side."

He spoke about what his team needed to do to compete against Mumbai. "Against Bombay you always need to score big runs," he said. "When you make the big runs and then you put them in to bat … you put a little pressure at the start, if they don't get a good start sometimes they collapse."

He also took heart from Saurashtra's performance against Mumbai the last time the sides met at the Wankhede Stadium, when Shitanshu Kotak batted more than 13 hours to set up a first-innings lead. "If we would have got a home match … you always want a home advantage a little bit, but it is fine. You have to take the challenge up. Last time we played here we beat them on first-innings lead, let's hope we take that thing with us."

The biggest drawback for Saurashtra is the absence of their two star players, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja. "Today is Pujara's birthday, he gave us his best wishes for the game, wish he'd have been here, would have been much better for the whole team [to] fight against a good side. [But it is] good, youngsters are coming up and they will understand the pressure of a final."

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo