Amol Muzumdar won the Ranji Trophy in his debut season for Mumbai in 1993-94 and on debut as skipper in 2006-07. He is now on the cusp of guiding Mumbai to a record-extending 42nd title as coach.
Standing in the way is the Chandrakant Pandit-coached Madhya Pradesh. The common thread between them is that both learnt the nuances of the game under the late Ramakant Achrekar at Sharadashram Vidyamandir and their guru’s imprint is evident in the way their teams play.
Pandit, the domestic coaching stalwart, guided Mumbai when they won back-to-back titles between 2002 and 2004 with Muzumdar among his key players. Both know each other inside out. Pandit has an upper hand when it comes to coaching experience but under Muzumdar’s tutelage, the young Mumbai side has impressed on way to their 48th Ranji final.
When the final kicks off at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday, Mumbai will start the favourites with all eyes on a young and exciting batting line-up led by Prithvi Shaw, the skipper. Weather though could intervene as rain is forecast on the first three days of the five-day final.
Shaw is yet to get going in the tournament though most of the other batters have runs under their belt going into the final. Shaw scored a quickfire half-century in the semi-final win over Uttar Pradesh but Mumbai will expect more from their most experienced batter.
“I have scored a couple of fifties but that’s not enough for me for sure. It happens some time but I am glad my team is doing good. As a captain, I have to think about all 21 players I have got here and not just about me,” Shaw, 22, said.
His opening partner Yashasvi Jaiswal has scored three back-to-back centuries, one-down Armaan Jaffer hit a second innings century in the semi-final. Suved Parkar had huge boots to fill when he was picked in place of the injured Ajinkya Rahane, but he surmounted the pressure to score 252 on debut in the huge quarter-finals win against Uttarakhand.
Sarfaraz Khan too has scored heavily this season. The 24-year-old has aggregated 803 runs so far and will look to further strengthen his bid for an India cap in the final.
Wicketkeeper-batter Hardik Tamore, who replaced the injured Aditya Tare in the playing XI against UP, scored a century while Shams Mulani has turned out to be Mumbai’s MVP. He the top wicket-taker in the competition with 37 scalps and has scored 292 runs with five fifties.
The bowling is led by the seasoned Dhawal Kulkarni, who has provided early breakthroughs. He is well supported by fellow pacers Tushar Deshpande and Mohit Avasthi.
Shaw said: “We have got a young side and not many of them have played this kind of final but they are ready for it. Just carry on (that form) for one more game,” he says.
Mumbai chairman of selectors Salil Ankola says the team is “hungry for success”.
“It’s a young team and they have fire in their belly. The squad is united. Everyone knows their role, everyone is chipping in and everyone is absolutely raring to go. After a long time, I’m seeing that the khadoos Mumbai attitude is back,” says the former India pacer. Ankola though stopped short of making a prediction. That could be because his former teammate Pandit is guiding the rivals.
MP squeezed into the knockouts thanks to a better quotient than Kerala, but they have played some quality cricket since landing in Bengaluru. They beat Punjab by 10 wickets in the quarters and followed it up with an impressive 174-run win over Bengal.
It is the collective display that has taken them this far—it will be MP’s first appearance in the final since 1998-99. Leading the batting is Rajat Patidar, their top-scorer with 506 runs, following by Yash Dubey (480), Shubham Sharma (462) and Himanshu Mantri (307).
Their left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya is the top wicket-taker with 27 scalps, 15 of them in the two knockout ties. But they make up for it by planning for each batter and how to get him out. MP will hope the meticulous tactics drawn up by Pandit pays off at a venue they had finished second best against Karnataka in their previous final.
MP skipper Aditya Shrivastava said pacer Puneet Datey and and Kartikeya (neck spasm) were set to play after fitness concerns. He urged his players not to be overawed, saying that Pandit has asked them to maintain “energy and intensity”.
“Bombay has been a great team in Indian cricket over the years,” he said. “We’re backing ourselves to play good cricket as we have done over the season. The final is just a psychological stage, it is a big occasion for MP cricket but at the same time it is another game.”