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Mumbai are favourites
- We’re looking forward to the challenge: Agarkar

Mumbai: History and form make them the odds-on favourites, but Mumbai are not taking things for granted ahead of Saturday’s Ranji Trophy summit showdown with Saurashtra, who have upset many an apple cart en route to the final, here.

The sheer weight of having senior cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, captain Ajit Agarkar and Wasim Jaffer along with top performers like Abhishek Nayar and wicketkeeper Aditya Tare in their ranks tilts the scale heavily in favour of the 39-time champions.

Saurashtra, who have advanced to the summit clash for the first time, are the underdogs in the five-day clash on a wicket that is believed to be loaded heavily in favour of pacers, especially at the initial stages.

However, the hosts, losing just four finals out of the 43 they have figured in so far, in the long history of the national championship, prefer not to rest on the laurels.

“I am very happy with the way it has gone for us, from struggling a bit to qualifying and being in the final. Saurashtra, obviously, is a tough opposition who we cannot underestimate,” Agarkar said on Friday.

“It’s a one-off game and we need to be at our best. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said the former India pacer who had registered an important century against Services in the semi-final.

Saurashtra skipper, Jaydev Shah, said that it was very important for his team to get off to a flier.

“It’s a very big game for us. Mumbai are an experienced side. We would like to get a good start and put in our best effort in the first innings.”

Shah, who had scored 87 in the semi-final at home against Punjab, added that the key against Mumbai would be to score in bulk and put them under pressure.

“Against a team like Mumbai, you always need to score big runs and then exert pressure at the start. They tend to collapse sometimes on not getting a good start.

“If you take a few crucial wickets in between and contain them, it will be good,” he said.

It’s easier said than done, though, as Saurashtra had realised in their last meeting in Rajkot at the league stage in December, when Mumbai rattled up over 600 and bowled them out for half the total to take a vital first-innings lead.

Both the teams would miss key members for the all-important clash, with Saurashtra appearing more handicapped in the absence of the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, both being in India’s ODI scheme of things against England.

“They were doing very well in domestic cricket, but we can’t help it as they are playing for India. Had they been with us, we would have been mentally up and the opponents, too, could have felt more pressure. But we have to keep on fighting without them,” Shah said.

Agarkar, on the other hand, admitted that the presence of Tendulkar was a major boost to the team. However, he also lauded the efforts of his teammates who stood up and delivered in the absence of Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and the injured Zaheer Khan.

“We have been lucky enough to have Sachin, whose mere presence in the dressing room helps a lot of the younger guys. His involvement on the field is still the same since the first time I met him. We are obviously missing Rohit, Ajinkya and Zak (Zaheer) — all big players. But others too have ensured to step up for the team,” he stressed.

Although playing just three matches this season, Tendulkar has contributed in each of them. Scoring centuries in the league opener against Railways and in the quarter final against Baroda, Tendulkar came up with a crucial 56 against Services to help Mumbai recover from a difficult position (23 for 3) in the company of Nayar.

Statistically speaking…

Statistically, Mumbai are miles ahead of Saurashtra. While the hosts have recorded 26 outright victories, Saurashtra are yet to win one. On the basis of first-innings lead, though, Saurashtra did win four times as against Mumbai’s 21.
Matches played: 52
Mumbai won outright: 26
Saurashtra outright: 0
Mumbai won on first-innings lead: 21
Saurashtra won first-innings lead: 4
Drawn: 1
Highest total
Mumbai: 647/4 declared at Rajkot, 1996/97
Saurashtra: 643/4 declared at Rajkot, 2008/09
Lowest total
Mumbai: 79 at Surendranagar, 1976/77
Saurashtra: 25 at Bombay, 1951/52
Highest individual scores
Mumbai: 314* by Wasim Jaffer at Rajkot, 1996/97
Saurashtra: 198 by Atul Pandya at Bombay, 1987/88
Best bowling
Mumbai: 8/12 GS Ramchand at Bombay, 1959/60
Saurashtra: 6/27 Rajendra Jadeja at Surendranagar, 1976/77

Compiled by Mohandas Menon