Regardless of whether they are playing at home or away, it’s a rarity that Mumbai start as underdogs. The 40-time champions, however, will be more than satisfied if they return with an innings lead and three points from their penultimate Group ‘A’ Ranji Trophy match against table-toppers Karnataka, beginning here at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium from Sunday.
Mumbai skipper, Wasim Jaffer, spoke to this effect, reflecting the mood in the visiting camp as they prepared to take on confident hosts who have one step in the knockouts with 26 points. Jaffer’s low expectations stem not only from the fact that Karnataka, barring a setback against Gujarat, have been the most dominant side but the number of key players Mumbai have been missing in their ranks either due to injuries or national duties.
Medium pacers Dhawal Kulkarni and Akbar Khan and all-rounder Abhishek Nayar are nursing injuries of various natures while Zaheer Khan and Ajinkya Rahane are with the Indian side in South Africa besides Rohit Sharma. There is an influx of young blood in both sides since Karnataka hosted Mumbai in the 2009-10 Ranji Trophy final in Mysore but the core group of the home side remains the same while the only surviving member in the opposition is Jaffer.
The former India batsman, who is the third player to lead the defending champions this season after Zaheer and Nayar, will thus have a tough task of marshalling his inexperienced troops as Mumbai (23 points) look to strengthen their qualification chances with Gujarat (20) and Delhi (19) tapping at their heels.
On a surface that is likely to be designed to favour the pace-heavy home attack, Mumbai’s young batsmen will be tested unlike any they have been so far this season. They did encounter a fast bowler-friendly pitch in their opening encounter against Haryana but a certain Sachin Tendulkar had come to their rescue then. While the return of skipper R Vinay Kumar, who struck his maiden first-class ton against Punjab in the last match, has added more teeth to pace-bowling group, it’s A Mithun’s return to his old self that has made a big difference.
With 26 wickets in his bag from six matches, he is Karnataka’s highest wicket-taker and has been well complemented by another young pacer HS Sharath (17 wickets). Vinay will complete an enviable three-pronged fast-bowling unit with all-rounder Stuart Binny’s more-than-handy pace providing an extra edge. Left-arm spinner KP Appanna will retain his place in the side as he is lone spinner left in the squad after left-handed middle-order batsman was recalled in place of an injured Abrar Kazi. The experienced Verma, who can also chip in with a few overs of leg-spin, is likely to replace Karun Nair in the final 11.
Much like their batting, Mumbai’s bowling too is largely untested against a quality batting line-up. KL Rahul, expectedly, has emerged as the fulcrum of Karnataka batting with 612 runs already but Manish Pandey has been no less impressive. The right-hander, who delights and despairs you in equal measure with his cavalier methods, has produced some crucial knocks that have added more muscle to Karnataka batting even though the middle-order, which includes CM Gautam and Ganesh Satish, has failed to live up to its reputation.
That said, not for nothing Mumbai are the most decorated domestic team. They may not be the most exciting side to watch in the country but few can match their tenacity in the face of adversity.
DH News Service
Teams (from): KARNATAKA: R Vinay Kumar (capt), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Ganesh Satish, Manish Pandey, Amit Verma, Stuart Binny, CM Gautam (wk), A Mithun, KP Appanna, HS Sharath, Ronit More, Karun Nair, R Samarth, Shreyas Gopal.
MUMBAI: Wasim Jaffer (capt), Aditya Tare (wk), Kaustubh Pawar, Hiken Shah, Suryakumar Yadav, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr), Vishal Dabholkar, Siddesh Lad, Javed Khan, Shardul Thakur, Manish Rao, Pravin Tambe, Sagar Kerkar, Saurabh Netrawalkar, Subramanian Doraiswamy.
Officials: Umpires: Anil Kumar Choudhary (Delhi) and Nitin Pandit (Vidarbha). Third umpire: R Madana Gopal (Tamil Nadu). Match referee: Sanjay Raul.