Buoyed Odisha look to upstage injury-hit Mumbai
It's not often that a low-profile Ranji team like Odisha walks into the Wankhede Stadium and suggests that an upset is a likely possibility. Mumbai - an intimidating team on the domestic circuit, specially when they play at home - are used to grinding their opponents out, but the absence of their top players due to national commitments and a long list of injuries have left them in a vulnerable position. Last week, Jharkhand stung Mumbai at Wankhede, first through Saurabh Tiwary's double-century, then through Varun Aaron's spell, and the visitors left satisfied having stolen two points more than the home side.
"The last game was a good wake-up call," Wasim Jaffer, the Mumbai captain for this round, said. "This side is very young and we are missing a lot of senior players. Apart from me, there is hardly anybody who has played a lot. But there is a lot of talent and we need to look to win this game."
Odisha have played Mumbai five times before this and the best result they managed was a draw in a match where rain washed away two days. In the remaining games, a loss by 315 runs in 2008-09 was the only time Odisha didn't lose by an innings. Jharkhand's fight, however, has spurred their southern neighbours.
"There is a chance of an upset here, especially, after their last match," Biplab Samantray, the Odisha captain, said. "If Jharkhand can take an innings lead against Mumbai, then why can't we? We also defeated Jharkhand earlier and we have that confidence."
Mumbai have been further hit by Abhishek Nayar's unavailability for this match, due to hip and ankle injuries, and that has hurt their team balance. The batting line-up has Jaffer, Aditya Tare, Kaustubh Pawar and Suryakumar Yadav, but their bowling appears raw.
On Friday, the 42-year-old Pravin Tambe was still bowling a mix of googlies and legspinners in the centre, long after his team-mates had left. Asked if Tambe was in line for his first-class debut, Jaffer said: "We might look to play him probably because he is an experienced guy. His spin brings in a lot of variety and he can bat as well. That would give us a lot of cushion. We still haven't decided on the final XI, but I think he is a very strong contender to play."
However, on a pitch that is likely to be batting friendly, Odisha were brimming with confidence, especially after giving Delhi a strong fight in their last match. "It was the match against Delhi that boosted our confidence," Samantray said. "It proves that anything can happen in cricket. On a particular day, any team can beat a better side."
And Odisha were keen on not leaving anything to chance. They had two days of extended nets at the Wankhede, each lasting more than four hours. Samantray said their only plan ahead of the game was that once the batsmen were set, they would have to make sure they batted on. On Friday, Samantray, setting an example, had to be asked to cut short his batting session because the ground staff wanted to pull the nets down.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo