A determined performance against Gujarat in the last match of the league phase has helped Mumbai qualify for the quarter-finals of the Ranji Trophy 2013-14. Once again under the leadership of Zaheer Khan, they will take on Maharashtra at the Wankhede Stadium in five-day game beginning January 8. The ace pacer had led the team to three outright wins before heading to South Africa and is now back at the helm for the defending champions.
The team had struggled in a few games in between. However, Mumbai pulled off an improbable victory in their last group encounter versus Gujarat to claim a berth in the knock-out stage. “The team looks good. We have had few days of practice. We are looking forward to the game. The last win has definitely helped in boosting the confidence of the team,” Zaheer told the media.
The hosts have lost key players through the season for various reasons like injuries, retirement and national call-up. Reflecting on the predicament that the team finds itself in, Zaheer said, “It can happen when a team is going through a transition phase. Especially Ajit (Agarkar) was instrumental in keeping everyone on track and keeping everyone together and helping the youngsters when it comes to bowling. And right now we have few youngsters playing and we have been trying new bowlers as well to see who can be useful in coming years for Mumbai cricket.”
“And the same goes with the batting as well. So that is why I think you will see that there are many guys who have played this season. It is a transition that the team is going through.”
The Mumbai batting line-up has faced ups and downs through the season. And Hiken Shah’s absence due to injury will add to their woes. But they are looking to cope with it and hopeful that Vineet Indulkar’s return will make a difference. Speaking about the situation, Zaheer said, “That is one thing that we had concerns about. Right now if you see, few of the batters, who have been playing regularly, are injured. It is an opportunity for others, especially for someone like Vineet, who has been around for a while and has been playing club cricket now. Having played at the Ranji Trophy level should help him deal with the kind of pressure, which we will be dealing with in a stage like this. But yes, we will miss the services of Hiken; he has played some good knocks for the team to get here. Along with a few others, Hiken will also be missed.”
The stand-in captain also mentioned that he is especially impressed with Shardul Thakur’s performance. “I am particularly impressed with Shardul Thakur; he has got the pace, which is required at a higher level as well. So that is very promising. He is someone who we should invest in for the future and hopefully we will get some good performances out of him. Shardul being able to bat is an added responsibility on him as well. And he is a good all-round prospect, I think.”
Speaking about the opposition, Maharashtra, who topped their group to qualify, Zaheer said, “Every team who has qualified for the knock-outs has done well. We are just focusing on our strength. We are happy to be in the knock-out stage and we are just taking it one game at a time.”
Meanwhile, Maharashtra captain Rohit Motwani said, “It is a very crucial game. There is not much to be done about talking about the game and making it an issue. We have to go through the same processes that we have been doing all through the season. Let’s see what happens on the fifth day.”
The top two run-getters of the season are from Motwani’s team and most of the side has also been performing well. They will be further strengthened by the inclusion of Vijay Zol.
“It’s a great thing for us and these players too. This is a stage where we have to perform and we need to relish these opportunities,” he said about Harshad Khadiwale and Kedar Jadhav.
“Being in great form is something we need. Everyone is doing well. Team morale is very high,” he added.
Speaking about the team’s campaign so far, he said, “It’s been doing really well over the season. We have won three at home and one away. Winning three at home outright was not easy, considering Gahunje is a batting wicket. But the bowlers have done really well getting the 20 wickets and worked hard and they are in very good shape and hopefully they will do well in this game too.”
Talking about the opposition, he mentioned, “We haven't looked at the scores Mumbai has produced. We have been doing well in every department. Each and every bowler has contributed with wickets. We just have to target and get the small things right, whether it’s the four-five wickets in the beginning or the runs on the board.”