Even before the season started, many predicted that the Ranji Trophy final this year would feature the two heavyweights, Mumbai and Karnataka. And two months into the tournament, the prediction has almost come true. It’s only that the two teams are facing off a bit early — in the quarterfinals in Nagpur on December 7. This, however, has already got the cricketing fraternity excited.
While Karnataka dominated the group stage largely due to Mayank Agarwal’s consistent knocks, Mumbai overcome some early hiccups to make it to the Round of Eight.
Despite having some big names in its ranks, Mumbai went through a phase when making the quarterfinals looked like a distant dream. However, Aditya Tare’s boys held their nerves to ensure there were no slip-ups. The job was made easy with boy wonder Prithvi Shaw showing consistent form and Siddhesh Lad chipping in with crucial knocks.
From a tricky spot, Mumbai managed to steady itself. The team registered an outright win (with a bonus point) against Tripura in its last group league match. And this should certainly have bolstered the Mumbai’s confidence.
Ranji Trophy quarterfinals: Captains exude confidence
Ahead of the match against one of the toughest teams in the tournament, Mumbai skipper Tare was upbeat. “Both Mumbai and Karnataka are the powerhouses of cricket. Both of us have dominated for long, and have always maintained a healthy rivalry. But then, we have not faced each other in the last few years, so it will be a great contest,” Tare told Sportstar.
While Mumbai will miss the services of its injured pacer Shardul Thakur, the young captain was not willing to give much thought to the neutral venue. “We don’t know much about the ground since we have not played there. So, it will not favour us anyway,” Tare said.
And being a new venue, both the sides will have to settle down quickly and then go for a victory, the Mumbai skipper added.
Taking on Karnataka will be not be easy, but this season has taught Tare enough about how to bounce back from tricky situations. “We were facing tough times initially, and in the end, it required an outright win to qualify. So we have come here fighting our way through,” Tare said.
According to Tare it was important for a team to peak at the right time. “There were times when we were 20-3, and from there, we have been able to save games. That’s a positive sign and it also speaks highly of our fighting spirit,” the young Mumbai captain said.
Until Friday evening, there was confusion over the availability of in-form Prithvi Shaw, but the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) named him in the squad for the quarters. “It would be a big thing for him to play the quarters,” Tare said.
While Mumbai is out to prove a point, Karnataka, which topped the group, is brimming with confidence. The team led by R. Vinay Kumar reigned supreme in the league stage, and ahead of the quarters, Karnataka was hoping to keep the momentum going.
“We will take one game at a time, and for us, it is just another game,” said Vinay Kumar, making it clear that ‘if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best’.
“We will have to do well and play to our strength. But then, this will be a five-day game and we have to forget what we did in the past,” the pace spearhead said. “We have to be in the present and try to do well in the first session because that is going to be crucial.”
While Vinay Kumar said that Karnataka is ‘too good’ a side, coach P. V. Shashikanth was extremely happy with the way his wards have performed in the tournament so far. “There is a sharp contrast between our game and theirs (Mumbai’s). We will continue with our fearless brand of cricket,” the coach, who took charge this year, said.
But then, he knows the importance of the name Mumbai. “You can’t rule them out anyway, as they come with so much history. But we will play to our strength at a neutral venue,” Shashikanth said.
Meanwhile Delhi too is gearing up for a rather tough challenge against Madhya Pradesh. Ahead of the knockout clash in Vijayawada, Delhi’s young captain Rishabh Pant, too, said that he intends taking ‘one match at a time’.
“We have played well so far, and we have to treat is as any other match,” said Pant.
The young skipper, who shot to fame last year with his performance for India U-19, said that Delhi playing the quarterfinals at a neutral venue will not be much of a factor. “We played our last game in Hyderabad, so it is good that way. Playing at neutral venues gives both teams equal opportunity,” Pant pointed out.
With Ishant Sharma on national duty, Delhi will miss the fast bowler in the quarterfinals. But Pant has pinned his hopes on youngsters like Navdeep Saini. “We have bowlers who can take wickets and hopefully our good run will continue. But then, it would have been great to have someone like Ishant bhai in the side,” the captain said.
“We have to stay positive and play as per the situation. We have done it that way so far, and it should work again,” added an optimistic Pant.
Gujarat coach Hitesh Majmudar, too, believed that his side — which is the defending champion — will do better against Bengal at a neutral venue in Jaipur. “We have done extremely well in neutral venues last season. We won most of our matches on neutral venues, and that would help,” Majmudar said, referring to last year’s match against Baroda, where Gujarat chased down a big total at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. “There is no pressure on us. We are enjoying each and every moment, and our USP has been to deliver 110 per cent,” he added.
While Gujarat will miss the services of Jaspreet Bumrah and Akshar Patel, the defending champion will have Siddharth Desai — who played for India U-19 in the Challenger Trophy — back in business. “We have a balanced side and the result should go our way,” Majmudar said.