Finishing at the top of the Group C in the league phase, Maharashtra have had a dream run in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy. Under the watchful eye of former Maharashtra captain Surendra Bhave, the team has punched above its weight to beat some of the better teams. Amongst their achievements under Rohit Motwani, is their convincing win over defending champions Mumbai in the quarter-final at the Wankhede stadium and a thumping 10-wicket win in three days over Bengal at the Holkar Stadium in the semi-final.
Speaking about the approach to the final, coach Bhave said, “The usual trick used there is that you keep saying that it’s just another game, but everyone knows it’s not. So giving it due importance, but then again we have concentrated throughout the season about playing the session correctly. Winning the session is important. So once again it is a session to session and a day to day process for the side. Winning all those games will definitely have a bearing on how we play this particular match.”
Meanwhile, had Vijay Zol been unavailable, the team had replacements ready. “We had options. Rahul Tripathi has scored a double-hundred in the Colonel CK Nayudu Trophy. Vijay getting permission to play in the game is a very positive sign. Nikhil Naik also got a double in the semis, and we had replacements,” Bhave explained.
Speaking about the team’s composition, he said, “Most likely to go in with the same team. We are still contemplating whether we can make a change. Shrikant Mundhe is fit and available for selection, so he will be a strong contender to come back into the team.”
Discussing Chirag Khurana's role as a spinner, the coach said, “Chirag Khurana balances the team, that's the main thing. We get a pure off-spinner if Chirag is up the order. The 48 that he got for us against Bengal was crucial after they were bowled out for 114. He made a quick 48 and that really set us up for a good total.”
Speaking about the role of reverse swing, he said, "The wicket is slightly on the rougher side. It might play a big role in this game. Reverse swing, conventional swing, all have a role to play in the game, you never really know."
Speaking about the wicket, Bhave said, “The pitch is sporting, the ball will turn a little bit and we will be looking to play accordingly.”
“There is a little bit of grass on the pitch. It’s live grass and it’s not completely bare,” he added.
“The first two days of any knockout match are important and it will be the same thing here. Looks like a win toss and bat first but we will have to wait till tomorrow. You can decide what you like till today but it all depends on how the pitch looks tomorrow and what our gut feeling is. What are the areas we need to cover,” he said.
“It’s good to feel that pressure. It is better to be in the finals rather than just imagining about being in the finals. We are there now. We are fine with the pressure. One big thing about professional sport is that you need to be able to handle pressure at the big moments,” he said while discussing the pressure of playing the finals. “The players are definitely treating it as an opportunity rather than as a challenge. That helps you to manage pressure and I hope it does because I really think this team is talented enough to lift the cup.”
Bhave, who led Maharashtra when they last reached the final in 1992-93, has contributed largely to the team’s fortune. Speaking about what makes this team tick and the attitude in the dressing room, he said, “I have worked with a first-class team after a long time. Once I got connected to this team, I realised that they are not scared of anyone. They are an extremely confident unit. They are not scared of the big names. They deal with the ball, not with the bowler. They have been pretty good at focusing on the job and I don't think there has been any pressure in the dressing room right now.”
Meanwhile, captain Motwani added, “This team was performing well individually till last year. There was guidance that was needed for the team to come together. The only thing missing was a coach who could understand the scenario of our team, and once that happened, the team picked up.”
When asked if expectations of winning the title are putting added pressure on him and the team, the Maharashtra captain replied, “That is there, the Ranji trophy title is at the back of the mind. We have to do all the processes right. We need to cut things down in short goals. Winning the Ranji Trophy is the ultimate aim and it is at the back of our minds.”