Forget about the start of the tournament but even after 11 teams arrived on the banks of THE Sabarmati last week for the knockouts, not many would have predicted a Saurashtra versus Maharashtra final for the domestic one-day crown.
Glorious uncertainties? Indeed!
The western underdogs will lock horns once again in the gigantic Narendra Modi Stadium in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final on Friday in a bid to stamp their supremacy in the format.
Despite being the most consistent outfit from the zone over the last five years across formats, the domestic cricket fraternity that’s driven by Ranji Trophy glory still consider Saurashtra as the least potent of the three teams from Gujarat.
Similarly, Maharashtra - one of the three domestic teams from the state - have been perennial underperformers across formats, having lifted just a solitary domestic title since its consecutive Ranji titles eight decades ago.
While Saurashtra will be playing in its third final and will be chasing its second title after Jaydev Shah’s men had defeated Bengal in a low-scoring final in 2007-08, Maharashtra will be hoping to make its maiden final a memorable one.
Despite both the captains - Jaydev Unadkat and Ruturaj Gaikwad - having played a sterling role for their teams so far, the duo will realise they will have to repeat their heroics over the last three weeks for ending the day with a smile that was evident in both the camps on Wednesday.
In fact, the mini-battle between Unadkat and Gaikwad could well prove to be decisive. If Gaikwad can see off Unadkat’s early onslaught, it will certainly boost Maharashtra’s chances of lifting the trophy.
Just like the semifinal, Saurashtra will be without left-arm pacer Chetan Sakariya, injured while taking a sensational catch in the deep during the quarterfinal, in seam-friendly conditions at Motera. Maharashtra, on the other hand, will miss star batter Rahul Tripathi’s services, who flew off to Bangladesh after the semifinal for India’s ODI series.
Ankeet Bawane, the seniormost Maharashtra batter, is a doubtful starter after hurting his right quadricep muscle during his hundred in the semifinal. The team management will take a call on him in the morning, but Naushad Shaikh has been called up as a back-up. Pavan Shah, the reserve opener, is set to partner Gaikwad in Tripathi’s absence.
While Maharashtra’s batters will have to adopt a cautious approach, its pace attack led by Indian Premier League star Mukesh Choudhary and promising youngster Rajvardhan Hangargekar will be eager for their maiden outing in the main stadium.
Choudhary will be looking forward to taking a leaf out of Unadkat’s success with left-arm pace with pacers dominating in the last three games. Hangargekar - having picked nine wickets on flatbeds during the previous two games - will be looking forward to extracting more bounce come Friday.