Reinforced Delhi take on favourites Mumbai
The feelings between the Mumbai and Delhi camps are mutual on the eve of their third-round Ranji Trophy clash at the Wankhede Stadium. Both sides respect each other and agree it will be a keenly-contested game, given their traditional rivalry. While Vijay Dahiya, Delhi's coach, and Amol Muzumdar, the Mumbai captain, back their teams, they both know that neither can afford to take the other lightly.
Dahiya, who kept wicket for Delhi till last season, and is in his first season as coach, said the clash with Mumbai has always been about pride. "Delhi-Mumbai is always a big game. This match will decide where we end up at the end of the league," he said, dressed in a red tee-shirt and shorts, and visibly more active than some of his players. Muzumdar didn't agree that this game carried such crucial weight, but felt the contest had always been "fantastic".
Both teams have eight points from the two games so far, but Mumbai have looked the more convincing unit. If not for Rahul Dravid's classy double century in the second innings in the first round, they would've been sitting pretty with the full points to be earned. This will be Delhi's first big clash after getting past Rajashtan in the first round and then struggling to wrap up the Saurashtra tail last week.
On paper Delhi have a strong batting line-up with three international openers in Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir, with strong support from the young hands of Virat Kohli and veteran Mithun Manhas in the middle order. Chopra, Kohli and Manhas have already scored centuries this season, while for Mumbai only Abhishek Nayar has reached the landmark. Like Delhi, Mumbai bat deep but the absence of Wasim Jaffer, away on national duty, would be a gaping hole very hard to fill for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, who will be opening with Sahil Kukreja.
Rohit Sharma, who has impressed with the composure and confidence of his strokeplay in the shorter versions of the international game, will have to take over the role that Jaffer has successfully carried out for Mumbai season after season. Muzumdar says Jaffer can't be replaced but that Mumbai "have individuals who can step up to do the job". Some of those individuals are Prashant Naik, who has got some handy scores down the order, and Nayar.
Both teams are likely to field two spinners given the assistance the Wankhede pitch provides. Muzumdar hinted legspinner Bhavesh Patel might make his debut ahead of Iqbal Abdulla, the slow left-arm spinner, but said a final decision would be taken on the morning of the match.
Delhi have already picked their team. With Ishant Sharma not picked in India's final XI at the Feroz Shah Kotla, the new-ball attack is likely to be headed up by him and Pradeep Sangwan, the left-arm medium-pacer. Even if thin on experience the duo could use their pace and swing to unsettle Mumbai's batsmen, especially in the morning. Shikhar Dhawan, who scored a century in the last game against Saurashtra, and Mayank Tehlan, will make way for Sehwag and Gambhir. Delhi have also decided to hand Narinder Singh, an offspinner who impressed the selectors with some fine displays in the Under-19 games, his maiden cap.
For Mumbai it could be the same team that played last week against Tamil Nadu, with the exception of Jaffer. Avishkar Salvi impressed with his display in the second round and has Muzumdar's confidence, so he will be Ajit Agarkar's new-ball partner with allrounder Nayar coming in at first change. Ramesh Powar will once again be the lynchpin on a flat Wankhede pitch devoid of any grass. Powar has been the match-winner in the first two games with 15 wickets - six against Karnatka and nine in the last game against Tamil Nadu.
As a senior Delhi player said, in the end it all boils down to what a player does on the given day, no matter if he's an international player or a rookie. Sehwag will be hoping to emulate Dravid's feat for Karnataka in the first two rounds - pile big runs and wait for his opportunity. Ditto with Gambhir, the Sharmas - Rohit and Ishant - and Powar. This in no way is a straight ticket to the Indian dressing room, but this is a pathway.
Mumbai (from): Sahil Kukreja, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Amol Muzumdar (capt), Prashant Naik, Abhishek Nayar, Vinayak Samant (wk), Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Aavishkar Salvi, Iqbal Abdulla, Bhavesh Patel.
Delhi: Aakash Chopra, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Rajat Bhatia, Mithun Manhas (capt), Puneet Bisht (wk), Chetanya Nanda, Narinder Singh, Ishant Sharma, Pradeep Sangwan.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo