First-timers face big stars, bigger odds

Sports

Despite being ensconced in distant Dharamsala's snug woolens, Cheteshwar Pujara couldn't avoid his name hotting up debates miles away in Mumbai. After all Saurashtra will take on mighty Mumbai in their maiden Ranji Trophy final, minus their inspirational batsman. Ask any Saurashtra player, and they'll all tell you that had Pujara been around, the complexion of this summit clash would've looked starkly different. By Thursday night it was clear that no player from the Indian ODI team would be released for the face-off, which meant Saurashtra have to face Mumbai — star-studded opponents, where Sachin Tendulkar's name is almost a sum-total of their entire Saurashtra line-up.

On paper, Mumbai once again look sturdy favourites to win another crown, and it won't come as a surprise if they turn this into a lopsided contest. Statistically, they have entered the Ranji Trophy final a record 44th time, winning it a staggering 39 times. Also they boast of the most formidable experience, with the team knowing all the tricks to win big games. Four Mumbai batsmen — Abhishek Nayar (904 runs), Wasim Jaffer (703 runs), Hiken Shah (718 runs) and Aditya Tare (839 runs) — have crossed the 700-mark this season while opener Kaustubh Pawar has 583 runs. International cricket's most prolific batsman Tendulkar has scored 310 runs in the last four innings for his home team, including two centuries.

His record in the past five finals he's played in is even more intimidating — Tendulkar has four hundreds, while their opener Jaffer recalls playing in seven finals, not losing even once. Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah can't help feeling that Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja's presence would have made all the difference. The relative minnows are clearly not as accustomed to playing without their stars as Mumbai have been all these years. "Both did very well in the Ranji Trophy. If they'd been with us, we would've been mentally upbeat and Mumbai would have felt more pressure. But we have to fight without them," Shah rues.

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