First-timers face big stars, bigger odds


However, what's brought both these teams to the cusp of glory is that both teams, despite pining after their big names, have invariably found someone within their ranks who's put his hand up when needed. For it wasn't exactly a stroll into the quarters, and qualifying was quite a struggle. In the quarter-finals at Palam, Mumbai saw captain Ajit Agarkar and keeper Aditya Tare dig deep against Services. While Saurashtra saw Sitanshu Kotak and Sheldon Jackson defend stoutly before Vishal Joshi's off-spin hauled them back into contention.

"Mumbai's had good performances from most of the squad, and that's what you want though there've been stand-out ones like Nayar, Tare and Wasim. Everyone has chipped in at important times," says Agarkar, a sentiment echoed by Shah when describing his bunch.

Only chance

Shah knows that records don't favour them. These two west zone rivals have met 52 times in the Ranji Trophy, with Saurashtra taking the first-innings lead only four times while they've never managed to win. Mumbai have claimed outright wins 26 times. Being a five-day final game, teams are expecting an outright result though it'll be crucial to note that Saurashtra don't have a single win outside of Rajkot.

Saurashtra will rely on their batsmen, Kotak, Sagar Jogyani, Sheldon Jackson (the only batsman in the team to have crossed 700) and Arpit Vasavada, and if they want to win, there's no doubt that they'll be expected to play five days of quality, ceaselessly competitive cricket. As Kotak put it, one can only beat Mumbai by batting them out.

"Or if we field first, we have to try and utilize the wicket and dismiss the first five batsmen quickly. Keep it tight and bowl them out for a score of 200 to 300 and then you try to bat them out of the game. You have to play one big innings and you are needed to bowl them out once," Kotak explains.

... contd.

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