Ranji Trophy: Kulkarni blow for Mumbai ahead of must-win match

The 41-time champion side needs an outright win against table-topper Saurashtra to keep its Ranji Trophy campaign alive.

Captain Siddhesh Lad during a training session ahead of Mumbai's match against Saurashtra.   -  Vivek Bendre

When you are already in neck-deep water, one has no choice but to give one last push to stay afloat. Mumbai finds itself in a same situation with two of its league matches remaining in this Ranji Trophy season. But ahead of its must-win match against table-toppers Saurashtra, the host has injury concerns to worry about.

With Mumbai requiring at least six points to keep the campaign alive against Saurashtra, the selectors tried to push Dhawal Kulkarni - the space spearhead who had missed the last two games due to a swollen ankle - back on the field. However, after training with the squad at the Wankhede Stadium two days ahead of the match, it was confirmed that Kulkarni was far from being match-fit and had to be pulled out.

"We have our backs to the wall. And the only way out of this is going forward. We have to fight it out. We will look to play aggressive cricket. We will go on the front foot. Mentally we are prepared to play some positive and aggressive cricket."

- Aditya Tare, Mumbai batsman-wicket-keeper

"I would not hesitate to say this is our best chance (to beat Mumbai). Not just because how their team looks like, but because of the way we have been playing as well."

- Jaydev Unadkat, Saurashtra captain

Kulkarni’s wasn’t the only one with a sore ankle. Eknath Kerkar, who made his first-class debut last week against Baroda after being on the fringes for five seasons, suffered an ankle injury during the pre-match training on Thursday and his participation on Saturday is far from being confirmed. If Kerkar is ruled out, Mumbai will yet again rejig its middle-order, the instability which has caused as much headache for the team, coaching staff and selectors alike as the inexperienced bowling unit, right through the season.

As a result, the selectors have included Armaan Jaffer and Shivam Malhotra - both of whom have wasted opportunities so far in this season.

Read: Lacklusture TN runs into an in-form Himachal

A lacklustre season for Mumbai so far, captain Siddhesh Lad will hope nothing less than a miracle at the Wankhede to keep the hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals alive.

Saurashtra, on the other hand, is on a roll. Despite the retirement of veteran captain Jaydev Shah mid-way through the season, the team hasn’t lost momentum. In fact, on the back of pocketing 12 points in two weeks with wins over formidable Karnataka and measured Maharashtra, Jaydev Unadkat’s boys top the combined points tally for A and B groups, five of whom will go through to the knock-outs.

Captain Unadkat had no qualms in admitting that this being the “best chance” for Saurashtra to avenge its sorry losses in the last two face-off against Mumbai - three-day losses in Ranji final in 2012-13 and 2015-16. It would be interesting to see if Lad’s lads can take a cue from those two games and turn the tide around.

Squads (from):

Mumbai: Siddhesh Lad (Capt.), Shreyas Iyer, Dhawal Kulkarni, Aditya Tare (w.k.), Eknath Kerkar (w.k.), Shivam Dube, Jay Bista, Akash Parkar, Vikrant Auti, Shubham Ranjane, Karsh Kothari, Dhrumil Matkar, Royston Dias, Minad Manjrekar, Tanush Kotian, Armaan Jaffer, Shivam Malhotra

Saurashtra: Jaydev Unadkat (Capt.), Aarpit Vasavada, Sheldon Jackson, Avi Barot, Harvik Desai, Snell Patel (w.k.), Chirag Jani, Prerak Mankad, Dharmendra Jadeja, Chetan Sakariya, Kishan Parmar, Hardik Rathod, Vandit Jivrajani, Kamlesh Makwana, Vishvaraj Jadeja.