'The balance has been missing' - Jaffer
Multiple champions in an away knockout game against underdogs with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Mumbai have been in this situation before. Eventual winners Rajasthan knocked them out of the Ranji Trophy last season in the quarter-final in Jaipur, their new-ball pair of Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar utilising the opening session to run through a line-up that included Wasim Jaffer, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nayar.
The stage has shifted to Indore this season but an in-form new-ball duo, TP Sudhindra and Ishwar Pandey, again awaits Mumbai in another quarter-final on a pitch expected to aid the quicks in the first session. This is where the similarities end.
The Mumbai side that will face Madhya Pradesh is almost unrecognisable from the team that played Rajasthan. Rahane and Rohit are in Australia on national duty. Nayar has lost his latest battle with injuries and has been withdrawn from the squad. Ajit Agarkar is still miffed after being dropped against Orissa; the man he was dropped for, Aavishkar Salvi, got injured during Mumbai's previous game against Punjab. To top it all, wicketkeeper-batsman Sushant Marathe injured his groin while diving to collect a delivery in the Punjab match. Mumbai have been used to the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan but missing so many first-choice players is almost like playing with a second XI.
Jaffer, the captain, said that all the injuries had played havoc with the balance of the team. "It has troubled the composition of the team. We could have played Nayar as the third seamer and Marathe as the opening batsman. The balance has been missing."
But you don't win the Ranji Trophy 39 times if you don't have the resilience to fight adversity. After Salvi and Marathe pulled out on the first day, a nine-man Mumbai demolished Punjab by nine wickets. Jaffer said Mumbai would have to make the most of what they have got in terms of resources. "I think we have still got good quality in the team," Jaffer said. "Whatever newcomers we have got, they have done well. Onkar Gurav [Marathe's replacement] has played before. This is not his first game. So at least temperament-wise he won't be struggling."
With the batting as well as the pace bowling thin on experience, Mumbai could even go in with three spinning allrounders in Ramesh Powar, Ankeet Chavan and Iqbal Abdulla, leaving one of Balwinder Sandhu or Kshemal Waingankar to partner Dhawal Kulkarni with the new ball.
The pitch, which had a fair sprinkling of grass today over a slightly dry-looking surface, was a matter of keen interest for the Mumbai camp with several of their players inspecting it along with coach Sulakshan Kulkarni. Jaffer said that was because Mumbai needed to be sure what they would do if they won the toss. "The pitch could still end up looking completely different in the morning. It should help the seamers in the first session and then it will probably ease out to become batsman-friendly."
Jaffer was mindful of the threat posed by Sudhindra and Pandey - who have 57 wickets between them this season - but said that the MP attack held little danger otherwise. "Apart from those two, not many have taken wickets for them. If we negate them, we will be in a good position. It's a knockout game and will probably go on the first innings."
If Mumbai bat first tomorrow, Jaffer will hope that it is not decided by the first session again.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo