Mumbai: David will meet Goliath in the Ranji Trophy on Tuesday when Mumbai take on their Achilles heel Tamil Nadu in the semi-finals at the iconic Wankhede Stadium.
Tamil Nadu may have lifted the title just twice, but lately the southern hemisphere giants have had their way with outright victories and first innings lead in their last few meetings with the 39-time Ranji Trophy champions.
The scales look even with Mumbai having just four wins to their credit in 22 meetings with Tamil Nadu. The first time Mumbai found themselves on the wrong end was when they lost by 153 runs in the quarter-finals of the 1996 season.
Fifteen years from that loss, Tamil Nadu have only grown stronger, more so this time with Mumbai stalwarts Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar missing and services of the prolific young scorers Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane also unavailable to the hosts. Add to that the absence of wicketkeeper-batsman Sushant Marathe and paceman Avishkar Salvi and you can see Tamil Nadu fancy their chances.
However, the Wasim Jaffer-led Mumbai have been remarkably resilient to overcome these absences and reach this far. Jaffer, though, has suggested a change in the playing XI with Abhishek Nayar, who is fit now, coming in for Praful Waghela. Nayar, along with young Suryakumar Yadav who has 669 runs from eight matches, has carried Mumbai's batting this season since Rohit left with the India squad for Australia.
In the absence of Waghela, Jaffer may drop down to No. 3, allowing quarter-finals centurion Kaustubh Pawar and wicketkeeper-batsman Onkar Gaurav to come out as openers.
On the bowling front, Agarkar, Mumbai's most experienced bowler, still hasn't made himself unavailable after being given the chop against Orissa. In that scenario, Dhawal Kulkarni and offspinner Romesh Pawar will carry the major workload of taking wickets. Mumbai's new recruit Balwinder Sandhu Jr should provide Kulkarni valuable assistance after his impressive debut. It will also be interesting if the Mumbai team management opts for Iqbal Abdullah or Ankit Chavan who has impressed with his left-arm slow bowling and useful lower-order batting.
Tamil Nadu, who are known to be spin powerhouse, seem to have an edge in batting this time. Other than Laxmipathy Balaji's wealth of domestic experiences, the visitors rely on youngsters Jagannath Kaushik, Sunny Gupta, Aushik Srinivas and skipper Yo Mahesh in the bowling department.
Their batting line-up, however, includes Test players Murali Vijay, Abhibav Mukund, S Badrinath and wicketkeeper Dinesh Kartik, which gives the team a much more formidable look in comparison to Mumbai as far as batting is concerned.
In the quarter-finals, Mumbai got the better of Madhya Pradesh while Tamil Nadu outsmarted Maharashtra by virtue of first innings leads in the drawn ties.
Mumbai: Wasim Jaffer (c), Ramesh Powar, Suryakumar Yadav, Iqbal Abdullah, Praful Waghela, Hiken Shah, Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Kshemal Waingankar, Kaustubh Pawar, Onkar Gurav, Ankit Chavan, Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr., Murtuza Hussain, Nikhil Patil Jr.
Tamil Nadu: Lakshmipathy Balaji (c), J Kaushik, R Aushik Srinivas, M Kaushik Gandhi, Sunny Suresh Gupta, Dinesh Karthik (wk), V Yo Mahesh, Abhinav Mukund, R Prasanna, Sunil Sam, Rahil S Shah, U Sushil, K Sri Vasudeva Das, Murali Vijay, S Badrinath, Malolan Rangarajan.