Tendulkar and Zaheer boost strong Mumbai side
Match factsJanuary 4-7, 2009
Start time 9.30am (0400 GMT)
Big PictureWith experience, star value, history and mental edge on their side, Mumbai start as favourites but they will be looking forward to settling scores with Saurashtra, who have proved to be a hurdle in the last two years for the 37-time champions. Last season Mumbai were denied a semi-final berth after they failed to break the resistance built by Shitanshu Kotak. During the league phase this season, Mumbai were forced to follow on in Rajkot after three top-order Saurashtra batsmen recorded big centuries. That was the only game Mumbai came out second in their campaign. What makes Mumbai favourites is the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan. Mumbai won the championship when they last represented the team in the final of 2006-07 season.
But Saurashtra have some spirited youngsters to counter Mumbai's might. Jaydev Shah, their captain, admitted Saurashtra faced a stiff challenge especially with the addition of Tendulkar and Zaheer, but he said his team could look Mumbai in the eye if they remained focussed.
Form guide(last five games, most recent first)
Players to watch out forShitanshu Kotak, Saurashtra's senior-most player, proved his worth in the quarter-final against Karnataka, where they needed 315 on the final day. More renowned for his tedious innings, Kotak transformed his batting and his 163-run fourth-wicket partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara helped take them into the semis. Last year his 796-minute epic of 168 in the final league game sapped Mumbai's energies as they lost on the first-innings lead.
Zaheer Khan-Dhawal Kulkarni are Mumbai's two go-to men. This pair can destroy any opposition. The unique thing about the duo is their ability to strike early and at any time of the day. Zaheer has proved his versatility in all forms of the game with his movement in the air and off the pitch with both the new and the old ball. Kulkarni, the third highest wicket-taker this season (34), has picked up a wicket in his first over on six occasions. His accuracy is another factor that has rocked various oppositions in his debut season.
Cheteshwar Pujara looked forward to the prospect of facing Zaheer at Chepauk. Curator K Parthasarathy said the pitch would sport a tinge of green and Pujara could be tested by Zaheer & Co. He has a whopping 867 runs at 86.70 in the Super League this season. His 112 not out enabled Saurashtra to score a sensational win, chasing 325, against Karnataka in the quarter-final in Mumbai. His runs have been scored at a creditable strike-rate of 72.12. "I want to deliver in all formats," he said. Pujara's four three-figure Ranji innings this year include a triple-century. On Pujara rest much of Saurashtra's hopes.
Team newsMumbai have already announced their 12, benching Sahil Kukreja, Usman Malvi and Ankit Chavan. But as Wasim Jaffer admitted today, it will be a "tough choice" to decide on the final XI. Form might be the key and indications are it will eventually be a choice between two senior members: Amol Muzumdar and Sairaj Bahutule. Muzumdar, who needs a further 42 runs to become the highest run-maker in the Ranji Trophy, has a lone century in the eight games. But he might get picked over Bahutule, who has struggled to find rhythm (only nine wickets in six games) and has been reduced to a part-time spinner.
Mumbai: Wasim Jaffer (capt), Vinayak Samant (wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Amol Muzumdar, Abhishek Nayar, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni.
With no injury worries, Saurashtra are likely to retain the same line-up that overwhelmed Karnataka in the quarter-final.
Sauarashtra: Jaydev Shah (capt), Bhushan Chavan, Chirag Pathak, Shitanshu Kotak, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Sagar Jogiyani (wk), Kamlesh Makwana, Sandeep Jobanputra, Jayesh Odedra, Balkrishna Jadeja.
Pitch & conditionsChennai is experiencing a pleasant winter with the mercury hovering in early-30s. The curator has predicted a sporting pitch but on the slower side. Though there is a smattering of grass, spinners will likely gain prominence from day three onwards.
Quotes"Cheteshwar Pujara is capable of scoring big hundreds and his wicket is important. But we have more experience of playing at this level."
Wasim Jaffer points out Mumbai's big worry.
"Mentally they have the edge due to the addition of the two [Tendulkar and Zaheer] but we have to give 200%."
Jaydev Shah, Saurashtra captain, accepts the challenge.
"We don't need to be wary about Sachin and Zaheer but others have done well that's why they are in semis. They are definitely the stronger side even if we have done well against them in the last three games but they two were not there."
Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra will not underestimate his opponents.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo