Ranji Trophy 2015-16, final February 23, 2016

Saurashtra face Mumbai colossus in bid for first title


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Young Mumbai stake claim for 41st Ranji title

The only time Saurashtra have had a shot at Indian domestic cricket's biggest prize before this was three seasons ago. But they spent more time plotting and planning than they did in the middle; being blown away by Mumbai in three days at the Wankhede Stadium.

If Saurashtra wanted a taste of what to expect in the grand finale this time around, it came last week in Cuttack. The might of Mumbai, the 40-time champions who have almost won more titles than the rest of India combined, was in full view against Madhya Pradesh, the "underdogs", who were buried under an avalanche of runs.

Therefore, on paper, Mumbai should be the runaway winners, giving not even an inch to their opponents, who admitted to having a tinge of "nervous excitement". But, cricket is played out in the middle; Saurashtra will vouch for it.

"A lot of people asked me about what happened in the last final in 2012-13, but we shouldn't forget that the last time we played them in the final, Sachin Tendulkar was playing along with Ajit Agarkar and Wasim Jaffer," Shitanshu Kotak, the Saurashtra coach, said. "They definitely have good players in the side but those three, I don't think you can match them. We have good a good side, one that can match them in every aspect."

But that Saurashtra have a herculean task at hand would be an understatement. Since 1990-91, Mumbai haven't lost any of the 10 finals they have played. But this one comes after a rebuilding phase and points to a resurgence that has been led by a young group. Mumbai's fresh approach, unlike in the past where the focus was to grind the opposition down, has been fuelled by the solidity of Akhil Herwadkar and the belligerence of Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav.

But Saurashtra, through their exploits which began in group C and particularly in their quarter-final and semi-final, have proved that they are more than just a one-trick pony. While Ravindra Jadeja was central to their plans on dry turners in the first half of the season, the pacers, particularly Jaydev Unadkat - who seems to have added a few yards of pace to his bowling along with variations in length - have stepped up on more even tracks.

Now, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Sheldon Jackson hitting top form towards the business end of the competition, the all-round depth in Saurashtra's ranks is unmistakable, even though their big-match temperament hasn't entirely been tested yet.

"There's no doubt that Pujara will be a big threat," Aditya Tare, the Mumbai captain, said. "He is an excellent long-form player, but I think we have a bowling attack capable of stopping him. It is not the first time that we are up against a Test player. The only thing we have to be careful about is not dropping our guard."

The 2015-16 season has been marked by a dramatic increase in the number of outright wins secured; 62 out of the 114 completed games, the highest over the last four seasons. While the stats may point to changed mindset within the camps, the truth is that the surfaces have had an equal part to play. There is little doubt then that the 22 yards in question at the MCA Stadium in Pune will have plenty to offer for the bowlers, particularly the pacers.

An even covering of green - even if not as much as during the T20 between India and Sri Lanka earlier this month - will keep the pacers interested, according to the curator. That means both sides could look to considerably strengthen their pace attacks.

On that front, Mumbai have an advantage, particularly with Dhawal Kulkarni returning from injury to share the duties with Balwinder Sandhu, Shardul Thakur and Abhishek Nayar. Meanwhile, Saurashtra will have to rely mainly on Unadkat and Hardik Rathod, with Deepak Punia in a run-containing role.

This season has reiterated the impact Iyer has had on Mumbai's batting. Such has been his approach that the surfaces have conveniently been taken out of the equation while he has batted. What plans Saurashtra have up their sleeve to counter that threat could go a long way in deciding the outcome of the final.

Mumbai have won 27 out of the 53 contests between these two teams - 25 have been drawn (and one no result), with Saurashtra conceding a lead in 21 of those draws. If Jaydev Shah's boys can buck the trend, it would mark yet another giant leap for them in what has been a near-perfect season.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Saurav on February 24, 2016, 12:48 GMT

    The complete cricketer and one man army RAVINDRA JADEJA is missed for sure for Saurashtra. Jadeja adds value in all departments and he guides the captain and team with his enormous experience and talent.

  • Parag Gujar on February 24, 2016, 5:55 GMT

    @Cricketman Mumbai keeps on reaching final after final due to their strong work ethic, not just in cricket, but in every walk of life, Perform or perish is the mantra

  • J on February 24, 2016, 3:40 GMT

    To those bashing dhawal Kulkarni - this is about giving a reasonable amount of chances to a player with potential and who has performed very well in domestic cricket. This is similar to giving multiple chances to players like yadav and all the other trundlers who have hardly made an impression. We can not have a situation where certain players get unlimited chances and some are dropped after a couple of average performances. Everyone needs to be given a fair chance to prove themselves before discarding.

  • Ashok on February 23, 2016, 20:28 GMT

    However much I want to like Saurashtra, I cannot look past Jaydev Shah and his long term permanently under 30 average on tracks where Jadeja easily averages twice as much. Mumbai is more of a meritocracy with players finding a place without consideration for their origin. I will be cheering for Mumbai. And without Jadeja Saurashtra will have to rely on Jackson/Pujara/Unadkat. Looks like a tall order.

  • Krushnal on February 23, 2016, 17:53 GMT

    To those talking about bringing back Dhawal Kulkarni immediately, I can do nothing but laugh at it. He got whacked all around the park by 3rd grade Zimbabwe batsmen and took a match we should've easily won to the last ball. Also, being in good form in Ranji Trophy (test format) doesn't mean he should be selected into the T20 side. Try to be realistic please.

  • jayaesh on February 23, 2016, 17:24 GMT

    Mumbai selectors have been unduly harsh on Jay Bista dropping him from the team after couple of poor performances, Arman Jaffer was in superlative form playing for Mumbai u-23 and scoring 180 odd ... but one can understand his exclusion because whom would you drop from the team to make place for Arman . Meanwhile for Saurashtra the legendary Jaidev Shah not only finds a place in the team but also captaining it . Whatever happened to young Samarth Vyas touted as the next Pujara , his name is not even in the squad.

  • Prasad on February 23, 2016, 17:03 GMT

    Both teams have played well. Hope for a good match with Mumbai winning.

  • Prateek on February 23, 2016, 16:09 GMT

    Mumbai somehow always bounces back, and they would be favorite once again. Saurashtra though are not out by any means and it should be a good contest. I am especially looking for how Unadkat performs. He was unplayable in the U-19 world cup in 2010 and got the test cap later that year. He was raw and inexperienced then. Now he seems to be developing into an all-round pacer. It will be great if he can provide a good test bowling option for India for next few years. Hopefully selectors are watching.

  • Ashok on February 23, 2016, 15:54 GMT

    Mumbai in the past was the centre of Cricket in India. But with migration of players to other provinces, Mumbai no longer have their home grown talent. Saurashtra also miss their ace . Sir Jadeja, in the T20 India squad as do Mumbai missing Rohit & Rahane. But the real issue here is who is capable of rising to the occasion? Saurashtra have Pujara, Jackson in batting & Unadkat, Jadeja, Rathod & Punia in bowling. Mumbai on the other hand Tare, Iyer, Surya Yadev, Nayar in batting Kulkarni, Thakur, Sandhu & Abdullah in bowling. So Mumbai batting has depth whilst Saurashtra rely heavily on Pujara. Unless in-form Unadkat can take care of this batting, his team face an uphill task of huge total. It promises to be a David Vs. Goliath battle, unless the Mumbai batting fails!

  • ahmed on February 23, 2016, 15:35 GMT

    @oldtimer dhawal was wacked by zim batsman bro where even binny was way better to him similarly binny more pacy than kulkarni according to speed gun .so why India try to a bowler who can't even bowl to zim batsman and over speed of 130.

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