Mumbai v Maharashtra, Ranji quarterfinals, Mumbai January 7, 2014

Derby no freebie for Mumbai

One of the basic objectives behind changing the zonal league followed by knockouts format of the Ranji Trophy into a two-tier - now three-tier - tournament was to break the monotony of teams facing the same oppositions. However, with only one team getting relegated from the top groups, the teams started facing more or less the same oppositions, albeit from different zones.

What the new format did was to give a new context to intra-zonal rivalries. The annual Maharashtra derby between Mumbai and Maharashtra became a rare proposition, with Mumbai placed in the top tier and an inconsistent Maharashtra languishing in the bottom tier for a better part of the last decade.

The rivalry couldn't have asked for a better stage than the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal to be renewed after a gap of six years. Despite Zaheer Khan's return to Mumbai line-up, Maharashtra are confident that they can not only compete but overcome their fancied rivals. Considering both the teams' campaigns so far this season, Maharashtra have every reason to believe it is their best chance to beat Mumbai in a knockout match for the first time.

While Maharashtra qualified for the knockouts with a game to spare, though it was from Group C, Mumbai had to overcome Gujarat in a must-win league game last week to make it to the last eight. What's more, the Mumbai batting line-up is perhaps the weakest and the most inconsistent over the last decade,

Maharashtra's batsmen have been in scintillating form, with Harshad Khadiwale and Kedar Jadhav placed at the top of the list of highest run-getters of the season.

And Maharashtra's only fitness concern was taken care of on the eve of the game as opener Vijay Zol, who hurt his groin while scoring a century against Pakistan in the final of the U-19 Asia Cup last week, was cleared by the team physio.

Mumbai on the other hand have been plagued with multiple injuries in the batting line-up, with Siddhesh Lad, Hiken Shah and D Subramanian joining the list last week in Valsad. It has opened the door for Vinit Indulkar, and Zaheer hinted that the middle-order batsman could play for Mumbai colours for the first time in six years.

Not just current form, even recent history is against Mumbai. The last two times Mumbai hosted Maharashtra at the Wankhede Stadium, the visitors have got the better of him. While Maharashtra registered only their second outright victory against Mumbai in 2005-06, Hrishikesh Kanitkar's boys returned to Wankhede in 2007-08 to earn the first innings lead.

Both the teams have seen so many changes to their line-ups since then that only four players - Khadiwale, Jadhav and Samad Fallah for Maharashtra and Abhishek Nayar for Mumbai - who featured in the last tie are around this time.

Zaheer's presence, however, tilts the balance in favour of Mumbai going into the match, especially with the Wankhede wicket sporting a tinge of green. If Maharashtra can deal with Zaheer's bowling, then they can hope to continue their recent trend of having the upper hand against arch rivals Mumbai at the Wankhede.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo