Aditya Tare is a domestic veteran now. Having come through a competitive system, he is now in a position where he can dictate how the team functions. Tare's elevation to captaincy in 2014-15 came during a crisis: his predecessor Suryakumar Yadav stepped down amid a slew of ordinary results and reports of infighting. Along the way, he has had a senior player in Abhishek Nayar to guide him. In Chandrakant Pandit, Mumbai have a strict disciplinarian as coach.
It's this confluence of an easy-going attitude and the competitive spirit that allows the team to be who they are off the field, and yet remain focused and fiercely competitive on it. It has helped mould Mumbai into their present form, following the departure of stalwarts like Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Wasim Jaffer.
This season hasn't been easy for Mumbai, but the way they have jumped over every hurdle shows their character. Off the field, they are a bunch of jolly blokes who indulge in their share of fun and games. Team-bonding activities, where they watch movies and dine together, are a norm, and more so this season, given they have spent nearly three months on the road, with little time for rest and recovery. In the time spent at home, they've been spotted together at gyms, or even at a tattoo studio.
On the field, the free-spirited individuals have all been driven in the same direction. It's almost as if the Mumbai cap comes with a rider that says 'you have to win the Ranji Trophy'. These were the same words that were famously ingrained into Sachin Tendulkar when he made his debut as a 15-year-old. Prithvi Shaw, who was born a good 12 years later, and, at 17, is the youngest member of this Mumbai team, spoke of this burning desire when he was asked to make a formal speech during a team welcome ahead of the semi-final in Rajkot.
"Every Mumbai player who enters the dressing room aims to win the trophy. It doesn't matter if it's the most experienced player or the least experienced player," Tare said on the eve of Mumbai's quest for their 42nd title. "When Prithvi came into the squad, he mentioned he wants to win the Ranji Trophy in his speech. Anyone who comes in the squad, their aim is to win. That's the whole point, especially when you play for Bombay [Mumbai]."
Wanting to be fierce and competitive is one thing, pulling together in tough situations - especially after having to cope with long periods of travel - is another. It is, of course, a lot easier when players like Nayar are around to bail the team out of tough situations. Nayar was brushed aside early in his career as an "ordinary cricketer" by those who were supposed to welcome him into the set-up. Despite that, at 33, he has been a part of five Ranji Trophy-winning teams, and has exemplified the fighting spirit and their burning desire to rise above obstacles.
Nayar took nine wickets in a tense win in the quarter-final against Hyderabad. In the semi-final against Tamil Nadu, he scored a feisty half-century from a position where Mumbai could have conceded a lead, and perhaps even the game. That knock helped them eventually pull off a win that hadn't seemed likely on the second day, after a first-innings batting slump.
Nayar is the mentor, the one who young players turn to for suggestion and advice, the player who the coach and captain trust. Tare's praise for the former captain comes straight from the heart. "He loves playing cricket, loves playing for Bombay and that's seen by everyone," he said. "He plays with his heart on his sleeve. He's a great senior player to have.
"The determination he shows is infectious. He has been a crucial player for us for the past two seasons. He had a barren spell two seasons ago, but he's come back and won matches single-handedly for Bombay throughout the season. Whenever we were under pressure, he was my go-to man with bat and ball. He did that especially in the quarter-finals and semi-finals."
As happy as he seems to be in a job that comes with plenty of challenges, Tare has also left an imprint as a batsman. He may not have the big hundreds, but his cameos and steely half-centuries have gone a long way in helping Mumbai. In the quarter-final against Hyderabad, he counter-attacked to take the game forward and set up a strong first-innings total. In the second innings, with the ball reversing, he once again took the attack to the opposition and set Hyderabad a target that proved too much.
Many of his traits as a captain stem from this confidence of contributing as a batsman. He understands that while it is important to make big runs to be in the national reckoning, it isn't something he is beating himself to do, because it matters more to him that these contributions come in a Mumbai win.
"It's the standard that we've been brought up in - such tough situations and conditions," Tare, who has struck five half-centuries and more than 500 runs this season, said. "We may qualify every season, but if we don't win the Ranji Trophy, it's an unsuccessful season, whereas for other states, qualification itself is a big thing. That is how the standard is, and that's how it should be. Every player who comes into the squad knows it.
"I don't rate myself on the number of hundreds I score, but the number of matches I've won for Bombay. That holds a special thing in my mind. As a batsman, you're rated for hundreds. That's one thing I haven't done, but I am working on it. It's important that your contribution help teams win championships. I'm doing all that I can. It's still a dream to play Test cricket. I'm chasing it, I don't know for how far but I'm right behind it."
What of winning the big championships then? Is having a happy team, a competitive environment and a great bunch of boys enough to create an aura? Tare didn't think there's a choice. It's a responsibility, according to him, that comes with the Mumbai cap.
"When you're playing for Bombay, you're used to playing big games against big teams. I think it's just a tag. It's just another five-day game we've to play to the best of our abilities," he said. "There's no cakewalk. You have to face a lot of issues - injuries to players, lack of form sometimes, but it's been great. The support staff has been great, the selectors have been terrific. Whoever has come in has done superbly. We've shown we can handle tough situations. Coming in, we were prepared for every situation."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo