Ranji Trophy: Mumbai starts zonal leg with Gujarat face-off

Starting with the home clash against the 2016-17 champion Gujarat at the Wankhede Stadium from Wednesday, the coming four weeks will see Mumbai taking on each of its traditional rivals in succession.

Mumbai captain Dhawal Kulkarni with coach Vinayak Samant during a practice session at the Wankhede stadium on Tuesday.   -  Vivek Bendre

It's been more than 15 years since the Ranji Trophy moved on from the competition format involving a zonal league followed by knockouts. However, with all five teams from the west zone clubbed in the same group, the Mumbai cricketers – none of whom featured in the era of the zonal league – will get a feel of the west zone league over the coming days.

Starting with the home clash against the 2016-17 champion Gujarat at the Wankhede Stadium from Wednesday, the coming four weeks will see Mumbai taking on each of its traditional rivals in succession. Besides reviving the zonal rivalry, considering the patchy start Mumbai has had to its Group A campaign, it would be these four games that could eventually set the tone for whether the domestic giant will be in contention to add to its 41 titles.

A triple century during the C.K. Nayudu U-23 Trophy match against Saurashtra has helped Armaan Jaffer regain his place in Mumbai squad for the Ranji Trophy match against Gujarat.   -  Vivek Bendre

Having earned and conceded the innings lead versus Railways and Karnataka respectively in its first two games, Dhawal Kulkarni's boys are placed a lowly 12th in the combined Group A and B rankings. It will be interesting to see if the home turf helps Mumbai turn the tide after a forgettable outing against Karnataka in Belagavi last week.

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In a bid to strengthen its batting unit, Mumbai has recalled an in-form Armaan Jaffer who ended his 15-month hiatus due to a knee injury with an unbeaten triple ton in the C.K. Nayudu (U-23) Trophy against Saurashtra. More importantly, Siddhesh Lad, the most reliable batsman over the last couple of seasons in the absence of India regulars Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer, is set to be promoted to No. 3 in the batting order.

If Lad – along with the seasoned duo of Suryakumar Yadav and Aditya Tare – clicks with the willow, he will ease the burden on Shivam Dube's shoulders. Despite having earned just three first-class caps, the lanky all-rounder has already emerged as a vital cog in Mumbai's line-up. His clean hitting down the order has been as effective as his medium-pacers in the early part of the season.

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With Tushar Deshpande and Royston Dias at their fittest, captain Kulkarni and coach Vinayak Samant will be in a quandary over whether to field both the pacers and go in with only one spinner on what on Tuesday appeared to be a greenish turf at Wankhede.

Gujarat, on the other hand, will be hoping to continue its winning run against Mumbai. Despite the absence of veteran Parthiv Patel, in Australia with India's contingent, opener Priyank Panchal has led troupes effectively as Gujarat sits third in the combined pool with 10 points from three games. It will be hoping for young turks Dhruv Raval, the glovesman who has emerged as the highest run-getter for the team, and Siddharth Desai, the young paceman who will leave for the Emerging Asia Cup hours after the conclusion of the match, to impress against the team that matters in domestic cricket.

The teams (from):
Mumbai: Dhawal Kulkarni (Capt.), Akhil Herwadkar, Jay Bista, Siddhesh Lad, Suryakumar Yadav, Armaan Jaffer, Aditya Tare (w.k.), Shivam Dube, Karsh Kothari, Dhrumil Matkar, Tushar Deshpande, Royston Dias, Eknath Kerkar, Akash Parkar, Shubham Ranjane.
Gujarat: Priyank Panchal (Capt.), Manprit Juneja, Rujul Bhatt, Rush Kalaria, Het Patel, Dhruv Raval (w.k.), Chintan Gaja, Karan Patel, Mehul Patel, Piyush Chawla, Kathan Patel, Siddharth Desai, Arzan Nagwaswalla, Bhargav Merai, Hardik Patel.