Can Sourav Ganguly help Bengal lift the title? © AFP
They've played each other once before this season but both Bengal and Mumbai are aware that the Ranji Trophy final is a whole new ball game. Amol Muzumdar, the Mumbai captain, did not think his team's loss to Bengal in the league phase (on first-innings lead) would make a difference when the final began. "Bengal are a good side, they have done well so far, just as we have. It will be a good game," he said after his team's practice on the eve of the match. "I know we lost to them on the first innings lead in the league match but we don't want to look back at what has happened. It's a totally different game, the players have changed and we now have more experienced players back in the side."
Muzumdar also said that the best eleven would play the final, even if this meant that some of the players who battled hard all season would have to make way for the return of international cricketers. "I know people will ask whether it's right to drop youngsters who have made the team reach the finals. But this is what Mumbai cricket is all about. This has happened earlier too. Juniors have to make way for seniors, whenever they return from national duty."
Mumbai currently have a 19-member squad, and even after the eleven is named they will stay that way. The Mumbai Cricket Association has decided to pay the additional four members' match fees themselves, as the Board for Control of Cricket in India only pays for 15 members per match.
Muzumdar felt that the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium was a good one, and would give the game a chance to go the full distance of five days. "It is a good wicket, the ball will carry through nicely," he said. "It has bounce too, and I think it has been prepared with the idea of producing the best cricketing wicket."
Bengal's mediumpacers - Ranadeb Bose and Sourav Sarkar will do the job in the absence of the injured Shib Sankar Paul - have provided early breakthroughs all season, but Muzumdar was not unduly worried. "I know they have good bowlers in the beginning and in the spin department too. However, we also have two international bowlers to open for us in Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar. And I think there is nothing much to say about Ramesh Powar and Nilesh Kulkarni, other than that they are the best spinners in domestic cricket."
Paras Mhambrey, the former Mumbai fast bowler who has tasted Ranji glory himself, and is currently coaching the Bengal team, took heart from his team's consistent performances and believed that Ganguly's return to the side left them with the right mix of personnel to take on Mumbai. "The game in the league stage was played on a different track", he said. "If you stay at the wicket, runs will come. The inclusion of Sourav Ganguly has strengthened our balance, that is how a final should be played where the best eleven should figure. We are happy and have worked hard to reach this stage. Reaching two consecutive finals is a good thing for a side like Bengal, who earlier were struggling to avoid relegation."
Zaheer Khan v Sourav Ganguly
Last year in the Duleep Trophy final, Zaheer had cleaned Ganguly up with two perfect in-swinging yorkers. That, undoubtedly, will be on both their minds. Zaheer would like to dominate Ganguly as he did Smith in South Africa, while Ganguly would look to get back at Zaheer in another major final.
Manoj Tiwary and Abhishek Jhunjhunwala v Nilesh Kulkarni and Ramesh Powar
Tiwary and Jhunjhnwala have scored 1111 runs between them, and Powar and Kulkarni have taken 44 wickets between them. Given their penchant for big innings, Tiwary and Jhunjhunwala will have to conquer Powar and Kulkarni in the middle overs. The accuracy of Kulkarni and the loopy brilliance of Powar against the solid batting of Tiwary and Jhunjhunwala is a mouth-watering contest, especially once the wicket starts helping spinners.
Amol Muzumdar v Deep Dasgupta
The captains have bailed their sides out of difficult situations earlier in the season too. There will be extra pressure because they will be captaining ex-captains too, and superstars at that. Muzumdar is an important link in the flamboyant Mumbai batting line-up and Dasgupta the leader of the often resilient Bengal lower order.
Ranadeb Bose v Sachin Tendulkar
Bose has shown an aptitude for big matches this season, taking 48 wickets at 13.81. And big ones don't come bigger than Tendulkar in a Ranji final. Tendulkar last played for Mumbai in 2000-01 and scored a century against Baroda. The biggest hurdle in his path this time would be Bose.