Mumbai Ranji captain Zaheer Khan today said the team was experiencing mixed feelings ahead of Sachin Tendulkar's final domestic match and the players were lucky to have the veteran batsman for their season opener against Haryana starting here tomorrow.
"It is a special game for all of us. The atmosphere is very festive. Everyone is excited to be seeing Sachin in the Ranji Trophy for the last time. As a team we are lucky to have him here, everyone is excited that he is available for this game. In a way it is like his farewell game. It is emotional and exciting and there are mixed feelings in the camp. The emotion and the occasion will help everyone put in that extra bit to perform," said Zaheer.
"Sachin is enjoying the game as he was when he started. It is very evident. We are happy to have him around. The way preparations are going on, it's going to help him play those last two games (Tests against West Indies) as well," he added.
Tendulkar will be quitting international cricket after playing the two-Test series against the West Indies at Kolkata (November 6-10) and Mumbai (November 14-18).
Zaheer is leading the side in the absence of regular captain Rohit Sharma due to his commitments with the Indian team, which is currently playing against Australia in the seven-match ODI series.
Talking about his own form, the 35-year-old seasoned left-arm pacer said he was pleased with his match fitness.
"It's very important for me to get match fitness going. I am controlling the things I can control, making sure the routine is good and keeping things on track. It's important that you put in the hard work in training. It's just that sometimes you need a change, try new things and want to look at things differently. The idea behind doing that was completely different for me and I'm happy with the way things have gone," he said.
Zaheer, who visited France and South Africa for training programmes, knows the match is his last chance to show the national selectors that he is back ahead of the Test series against West Indies.
Since his return, Zaheer has claimed seven wickets in two first-class games against West Indies 'A'.
"I'm happy with the way things are going for me. The couple of matches I played for India A were a good opportunity to get some overs under the belt. The rhythm is good, and as I played more it was coming along and things were falling in place. The more I bowl in match situations, the more it will help me," he explained.
Zaheer said the conditions at the Chaudhry Bansi Lal Stadium are suitable for seam bowling and the team sports a settled look.
"I haven't really looked at the pitch, but the conditions look suitable for seam, which is exciting. We have a balanced attack and we will be focussing on that. Being the first game, everyone is excited. All the bowlers are fresh and ready to bowl long spells, which is a good thing.
"You can look at our line-up and see that it's a good side. You have (Wasim) Jaffer, (Ajinkya) Rahane, Sachin, and (Abhishek) Nayar has been scoring runs. You have bowlers like Dhawal Kulkarni, who has been around for a while now. It's a balanced and settled side. I'm sure the season is going to be a special one for Mumbai," he said.
Ajay Jadeja, Zaheer's Haryana counterpart, also spoke highly about Tendulkar and said he was lucky enough to play alongside him.
"Some of us were fortunate to spend time with him. He is considered the god of cricket, so to have been able to spend that time with him, on the field and travelling, I consider myself lucky. I can tell my kids about the times I spent with him," he said.
"I have been watching him for 30 years. He is enjoying the game today as he did when he started off. For a player, any match, whether it is his first or last, is about enjoying the game. I have never seen him do anything different in any match, he always gives it everything.
"The last memory is of beating them in Mumbai. That's the last memory I carry of a Ranji encounter against Sachin, unfortunately for him," he added.
Jadeja said it's an opportunity for Haryana team to play against the greatest ever.
"The way we are looking at this is as an opportunity to play against the best in the world.
You always have a shot, when you walk onto the park. This is not an under-15 team. Sachin will have an effect, but the squad is full of professional first class cricketers, so they'll be looking at it as a chance to play against the greatest ever," he said.
Jadeja also took a dig at Zaheer's fitness programme in France with Yuvraj Singh and said, "It's wonderful for us at Haryana. We've been here a few weeks. We live at the ground, there are nets available all day. The facilities at the ground are terrific. If someone wants to be away from the crowd, play cricket and get fit, you don't necessarily have to go all the way to France. There are places in India as well."
Jadeja said the Lahli track will assist the seamers. "This is my first game here. Generally the pitch has been helpful to seamers, but there have been occasions when 500 has been scored. Walking in, my first thought was wondering where exactly they were going to mark the crease, because it all looks green at the moment on the square. So that probably gives you a little hint. Let me put it this way, I think it will help Zaheer for sure."