Ranji Final Preview: Can Gujarat stop the Mumbai juggernaut?

Mumbai is in quest of its 42nd Ranji Trophy title and Gujarat its first, entering the final after 66 seasons. Both teams went through their practice sessions with the usual intensity even after a long season that started three months ago.

The promising young talent, Prithvi Shaw will be the player to watch out for, if he gets a place in the final eleven Mumbai squad.   -  R.V. Moorthy

The rise of the young kid on the block, Prithvi Shaw, into the senior ranks has warmed the cockles of many a heart in Mumbai’s cricketing circles, more so of the entire Mumbai squad and support staff that saw him in action for the first time in many years at Rajkot’s Khanderi village venue last week.

The Mumbai captain Aditya Tare admitted he had not seen Shaw bat in the last three seasons and so when he scored a century in the fourth innings of the semifinal against Tamil Nadu, the captain and coach felt that their long search for a sound opening batsman has been solved before its campaign against Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy final, which will start here at the Holkar Cricket Stadium.

Shaw is more likely to open the Mumbai innings with left-handed opener Akhil Herwadkar than Praful Waghela. Herwadkar, who has scored two centuries and a half century in the league phase, was on a rehabilitation programme for seven weeks to heal a ligament related ailment.

Though he had completed the rehab time and begun to train and practise well before the semifinal, the Mumbai selectors did not take the risk of recalling him for the match against Tamil Nadu. The Mumbai team management has been told to wait till Monday evening to put his name on the team sheet along with Shaw, but it can be surmised that Herwadkar has been brought here only to play, not to cool his heels.

The Mumbai senior selection committee chairman Milind Rege went out of the way to find out from India A and Under-19 coach, Rahul Dravid, to know if it was the ripe time to blood Shaw in the big league of India’s domestic tournament.

Shaw, like many Mumbai youngsters who come through the Giles and Harris Shield inter-school tournaments, has shown a big appetite to score runs and it was matter of time, when he would enter the dressing room of the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team.

These are early days for Shaw though; he’s already cut his teeth in a big match and it’s only fair to say that only time will tell if he will go on to knock the doors for selection in the Indian team in a few years. But he has grabbed the opportunity, that the likes of Jay Bista and Kaustub Pawar, squandered in the league.

While Tare, coach Pandit and the selectors would be much pleased with the latest development of finding an opening pair that can be relied upon to deliver, they are also happy that the seasoned campaigner Abhishek Nayar has deployed all his means in the knock-out matches.

After entering the field with various combinations, Mumbai has managed to find the right men for the business end of the tournament that it has won 41 times; absent though is seamer Dhawal Kulkarni. The selectors, instead of dropping anyone from the semifinal squad also added left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar, to give Tare the option of making a choice between Vijay Gohil or Dabholkar.

The penultimate first-class match of the season (the last would be the Zal Irani Cup), promises much because there is a new challenger in Gujarat, which has flaunted its batting potential and depth in no uncertain terms and has not been weighed down by the reputation of opponents like Mumbai. The Gujarat captain, Parthiv Patel, said that no West Zone team is a pushover now.

Gujarat has banked on its batting force right from the start. It has openers in Priyank Panchal and Samit Gohil, both of whom had triple centuries to their credit this season. They are followed by fearless stroke players like Bhargav Merai, Manprit Juneja and Parthiv himself. Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur will pose questions of their technique and nerves, but as they have proved time and again against a variety of bowlers in the league, they should not be found wanting.

Gujarat would not have fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah to share the new ball with left-arm seamer, Rudra Pratap Singh, who proved his worth against Jharkhand in the semifinal in Nagpur. Bumrah has been chosen for the ODI and T20 series against England.

In his absence, Parthiv may prefer to have Chintan Gaja, who, coach Vijay Patel said, was of Abhishek Nayar-type in bowling. Rush Kalaria who hurt the shoulder of his bowling arm against Jharkhand, went for treatment to Bangalore and bowled at the nets on Monday.

The two captains will delay picking the team after having a look at the pitch; the ground staff gave it a crop on Sunday and watered it. There is even grass cover too. The seamers have always thrived on the surface here and the batsmen who make runs will be a happy lot.

Mumbai is in quest of its 42nd title and Gujarat its first, entering the final after 66 seasons. Both teams went through their practice sessions with the usual intensity even after a long season that started three months ago.

The teams:

Mumbai: Aditya Tare (Captain/wicket-keeper), Akhil Herwadkar, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Siddhesh Lad, Abhishek Nayar, Shardul Thakur, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Tushar Deshpande, Vishal Dabholkar, Royston Dias, Sufiyan Shaikh, Vijay Gohil, Akshay Girap, Eknath Kerkar and Praful Waghela.

Gujarat: Parthiv Patel (Captain/wicket-keeper), Priyank Panchal, Samit Gohil, Bhargav Merai, Manprit Juneja, Rujul Bhatt, Chirag Gandhi, Hardik Patel, Chintan Gaja, Rudra Pratap Singh, Rush Kalaria, Ishwar Chaudhary, Dhriv Raval, Karan Patel and Mehul Patel.

Umpires: Anil Chaudhary and Nitin Menon; Third umpire: K. Srinath; Match Referee; Many Nayar.