After playing seven weeks of the Ranji Trophy league at neutral venues, the 41-time champion Mumbai is far from anxious in the context of clinching a place in the knockout stages scheduled in December.

With 26 points from six matches, Mumbai is on top of the nine-team Group 'A', and a place in the quarterfinals looks firmed up, but skipper Aditya Tare wants to head to Rajkot for the last league match against Punjab safe and secured. He and the team were disappointed at the outcome of the previous match against Gujarat where they fell short of the first innings by 15 runs and conceded three first innings points.

Mumbai retained its top position in the group gaining a point from the nail-biting first innings chase at Hubballi. But, with Tamil Nadu (23 points from seven matches), Gujarat (21 points from five matches) hot on its heels, and with Punjab and Bengal also left with few matches to play, Tare’s slight trepidation is understandable before Mumbai's match at the Vidarbha Cricket Association’s Civil Lines venue here from Tuesday. Furthermore, there could be the stark reminder of Bengal (as Cricket Association of Bengal XI) scoring over Mumbai Cricket Association XI in KSCA’s Capt K. Thimmappiah Memorial Cricket Tournament in last August.

The defending champion won three matches to earn full points, and Tare applauded the performances of freshmen like medium-pacer Tushar Deshpande and left-arm spinner Vijay Gohil, who unfortunately is not in the squad because of an injury.

"There have been changes, but they have added quality. Tushar has taken seven or eight wickets of no balls. He’s still the highest wicket taker. He runs in hard and bowls his heart out. He’s a great bowler to have in your squad. He’s young, works hard and has a good attitude. I think we have decent talent in our bowling department. I am happy with the changes that have come through. Whoever has come in has brought quality with him,’’ said Tare after the team’s long practice session on Monday afternoon.

The team arrived here without its top-scorer and opener Akhil Herwadkar. Tare was quite practical saying: "There are two ways of looking at it. If he (Herwadkar) requires rest, it’s well and good. I don’t mind him missing three or four weeks, rather than missing six months. It was a wise decision on our part to assess his injury and have an expert opinion done and listen to the expert. He was injured in the third game, but he continued to play without a scan done. He was limping right through. It was a ligament strain in his right foot, and it worsened. The bone contusions (deep bruise) became serious. So we thought he might as well rest and come back for important games."

"We cannot control injuries and hence we will miss the services of some important players. But Akhil’s absence also gives an opportunity for the bench strength to make a point for their places in the squad. I look at this circumstances as an opportunity to test our batting strength. It’s a chance for Bista (Jay) and Kaustubh Pawar to have a go in a first class game. I am quite confident that they will come good."

On Jay Bista: Every player has to improve, however, you might be with hitting. It’s not going to last. One needs to have a good defence and have a good back up plan whenever you fail and not in form and learn to get out of that phase. He is young and needs to sort out his game. He is really working hard in the nets and wants to do well for Mumbai. That’s a good sign, but obviously he has to keep improving and if he does that he will be more successful.

On Siddhesh Lad: His back has been an issue for a number of years. It’s unfortunate... injuries are part of the game. He is at an important stage of his career. He has to play two or three good knocks to be looked at for higher level. He is a big talent and we are missing him.

On Shreyas Iyer: He played a phenomenal innings (194 against Gujarat). He was brilliant. I think, right from the first game, he looked to be in touch. It was just that he was not batting long enough. He realised that and made sure that he stayed long enough in the middle for the team and he did that in the last game. Unfortunately, he could not pull it off for us. I am happy that he’s got runs behind him.

Mumbai will go in with Shardul Thakur and Dhawal Kulkarni if it opts for two seamers, which means Deshpande with 19 wickets will cool his heels in the dressing room. The spin department will be manned by Vishal Dabholkar and Aditya Dhumal.

Bengal was shot out for 86 and 133 by Baroda in a low-scoring league match at Lahli, Rohtak. It has selected Abhishek Raman, the captain of the State’s under-23 team, who has been in form with two centuries and one half-century.


Mumbai: Aditya Tare (capt.), Jay Bista, Kaustubh Pawar, Shreyas Iyer, Abhishek Nayar, Suryakumar Yadav, Shradul Thakur, Dhawal Kulkarni, Vishal Dhabolkar, Shubham Ranjane, Aditya Dhumal, Tushar Deshpande, Sufiyan Sheikh, Roystan Dias and Armann Jaffer.

Bengal: Manoj Tiwary (capt.) Abhimanyu Easwaran, Sudip Chatterjee, Shreevats Goswami, Sayan Sekhar Mondal, Agniv Pan, Pankaj Shaw, Aamir Gani, Ashoke Dinda,Sayan Ghosh, Pragyan Ojha,Mukesh Kumar, Amit Kuila, Writtick Chatterjee and Abhishek Raman.