Though six-time former champions Karnataka’s performance this year has been most impressive, as opposed to Mumbai’s lacklustre run so far, Mumbai can never be underestimated: they have won Ranji Trophy no less than 38 times and beaten Karnataka in three of the four finals.
Next Monday, Karnataka will lock horns with Mumbai either at the Chinnaswamy stadium here or in Mysore, with their confidence high and their self-belief supreme. After all, Karnataka have been the most dominant team this season, the infusion of young blood working wonders and the availability of Rahul Dravid at key moments an unquantifiable plus. The former Indian skipper is unlikely to figure in the title clash, and while Karnataka will miss his rich experience and unquestioned expertise, they have already shown that even without their inspirational captain, they can be more than a handful.
The dynamic duo of Manish Pandey with the bat and first-season wonder Abhimanyu Mithun with the ball have taken the country by storm. Pandey has upwards of 700 runs, including three exceptional centuries in trying circumstances, while the express Mithun has finally given Karnataka the luxury of fighting fire with fire – his 38 wickets a wonderful tribute to his skills given that he has often had to bowl on unresponsive tracks.
No less impressive has been R Vinay Kumar, the tireless medium-pacer who leads all-comers this season with 39 wickets. Pandey, though, has been in a league of his own, the brightest jewel in a young batting line-up well served by K B Pawan, Ganesh Satish and Amit Verma.
Against a team adept at playing big matches with intelligence, Karnataka will need to be on top of their game. Mumbai have done just enough to give themselves a chance to defend the title won last year.