Mumbai are perhaps the ultimate big-match domestic cricket team in the world, bested in only four of their 42 appearances in the finals of the Ranji Trophy. They have won four titles in the last seven years and in a tournament where first-innings leads usually prove decisive, their batsmen have racked up 350-plus totals in each of their previous five matches.
Still, heading into the final, it is their opponents, Karnataka, who start favourites. After a decade of mostly lacklustre cricket, a new-look Karnataka have been the most powerful team on the circuit this season, with four outright victories. Their pace trio has tormented opposition batsmen to such an extent that the Ranji final has been shifted to the quaint Gangothri Glades in Mysore, in the hope that the grass-topped pitch there will support the quicks more than the benign surface at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.
The batting unit, so dependent on Rahul Dravid - who is unavailable for the final - and Robin Uthappa in the past, has had five other batsmen make two or more centuries this season. The bowling has also been boosted by youngsters coming to the fore; Abhimanyu Mithun and S Aravind have reduced the wicket-taking burden off the more experienced R Vinaykumar and Sunil Joshi.
Mumbai, though, have loads of experience in dealing with high-pressure matches; among the home side's players, only Uthappa and Joshi have been involved in five-day games. Another of Mumbai's strengths is the depth in batting. Besides the recognised allrounder Abhiskeh Nayar, they also have the trio of Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar and Iqbal Abdulla, each of whom has made game-changing contributions with the bat this season.
With the final being a five-day fixture, and the track suited to fast
bowling, an outright result is likely. Besides Mumbai's outstanding
showing in past finals, they possess one more record that will hearten them: they have never lost outright to Karnataka in 76 seasons of the Ranji Trophy.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Karnataka DDWWW Mumbai DDDDD
Players to watch
Robin Uthappa was the stand-out batsman for Karnataka last season. This year, though, while his team has prospered his personal form has been rocky. He is yet to make a century after 10 innings, and there have been few significant contributions. Karnataka's first Ranji final in 11 years provides the big stage for him to remind the national selectors of his abilites.
In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma, and in the face of a strong Karnataka attack, the consistent pair of Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane will have to deliver again. Their battle against the home side's new-ball pair of Mithun and Vinaykumar will be pivotal to the match's result.
Besides the forced change of a replacement for Dravid, who is heading to Bangladesh for the two-Test series starting on January 17, Karnataka will not tweak the combination that took them through to the finals. The choice for the vacancy is between allrounders B Akhil and Stuart Binny, with a decision to be made on Monday morning. Binny, being the better batsman, is tipped to make the XI.
Karnataka: 1 Robin Uthappa (capt), 2 KB Pawan, 3 Amit Verma, 4
Manish Pandey, 5 CM Gautam (wk), 6 Ganesh Satish, 7 Stuart Binny/B Akhil, 8 R Vinay Kumar, 9 Sunil Joshi, 10 A Mithun, 11 S Arvind.
Mumbai are boosted by the news that both Nayar and Dhawal Kulkarni are fully fit after injury scares. Captain Jaffer was tight-lipped about the line-up for the final, but there shouldn't be too many changes besides Usman Malvi making way for Kulkarni.
After a raft of featherbeds this season, the surface at the Gangothri
Glades should be one that excites the fast bowlers with its bounce and carry. There is plenty of grass on the track, and Uthappa was satisfied with the conditions at hand. "Obviously it is a wicket which will help our fast bowlers," he said. "We are playing to our strengths and why not?" The outfield is a bit bumpy and has already been criticised by Mumbai coach Praveen Amre.
"How many times they have won is only for the record books. I don't think it counts for this game." Karnataka captain Robin Uthappa plays down Mumbai's formidable Ranji record
"Obviously, the [nature of the] wicket is not in our hands. They are
hosting it, and I'm sure they are happy with the wicket. We are also more than happy." Wasim Jaffer isn't fazed by the seamer's track that lies in