"It's like India - Pakistan". That's how Vinayak Samant, Mumbai's coach, described their rivalry with Delhi on the eve of the Vijay Hazare Trophy final at M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. It set the tone for the big day on Saturday when two teams on top of their game will take each other on in the title-clash. Mumbai have been unbeaten throughout the tournament from their ten matches. Almost all their matches have been rather one-sided, including the two knockout games leading to the final. Delhi have lost just one of their ten matches so far, and come into the final having just about survived a scare against Jharkhand in the semifinal. Mumbai perhaps hold the edge given the depth in the side, and the big names in the side. In Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer, they have a top three with international experience. They could have had Rohit Sharma too, but he had to leave the team after playing two games to join the Indian side ahead of the Windies ODIs. The star-studded batting line-up meant there was no place for Siddhesh Lad in the previous game. He'll now return to join the middle order with Suryakumar Yadav, while Rahane will open the batting with Shaw.
There were some concerns over Shaw's fitness; the 18-year-old seemed in discomfort due to a shoulder niggle during the semifinal against Hyderabad, although that didn't stop him from scoring 61 off 44. He did not train with the team on Friday, but Samant revealed he would take the field in the final as the injury was a mere 'muscle pull'. He also has the license to go after the bowling from the first ball. "He has his own way of batting. I don't have to instruct him," said Samant. "Let him play his shots. He's in good form and I'm allowing him to play in his own way. It doesn't matter if he gets out tomorrow on 0 or 1. That's what a champion player is about. If he's on the wicket for 15-20 overs, it's maximum benefit for the team." Mumbai's run in this tournament is what one would call as a result of a complete team performance. None of their batsmen are in the top 10 list of run-scorers. Captain Shreyas Iyer, 15th in the list with 366 runs from five innings, is their leading run-scorer. Shams Mulani, the 21-year-old left-arm spinner, is their highest wicket-taker with 16 wickets from eight games. The ever-reliable Dhawal Kulkarni has led the pace attack with good support from Tushar Deshpande.
The form of the bowlers and Mumbai's top order has meant Mumbai's middle-order hasn't got much time. Samant said that should not be a problem or an excuse for the side, given they are professionals. But that is one area Delhi can see as a weakness; if they can get past the top three on a fresh wicket in the final, they could put the rest under pressure. Delhi have the bowlers to do it too. Navdeep Saini and Khulwant Khejroliya have been in good form, and come into the game with confidence. They picked up six wickets between them to run through Jharkhand in the previous game, setting up their victory. How the two go against Shaw, Rahane and Iyer could well decide the fate of the final. Delhi will also need their batting group to come together and support their captain Gautam Gambhir. He has been their leading run-scorer with 517 runs from nine matches - only second in the tournament list behind Tamil Nadu's Abhinav Mukund - with two hundreds and a fifty. He has been the glue holding the batting together, and his dismissal in the previous game resulted in a collapse from which Delhi nearly never recovered. Fortunately for them, they had Pawan Negi in the lower order to pull it off.
Dhruv Shorey and Nitish Rana have scored in patches, but they'll know that one man can't do all the job. It's an area which Mumbai definitely see as a weakness in the Delhi side. "They have many stroke-players. So there is more responsibility on Gambhir," assessed Samant. "Because there are lot of stroke players he's not playing his (natural) game. And that's what we have to look at. Even if he's at the wicket, it doesn't matter. We shouldn't allow them to score runs quickly." Delhi's coach Mithun Manhas, though, was not too worried and said close games bring the team together.
"Not really. You are going to find yourself in such situations at times. At times there will be smooth sailing. That's part and parcel of cricket. If you win such games, the confidence goes really high. "When you're playing in such a tournament, at some point of time you're going to come across a team that is as good as you are. Jharkhand played really well, they had a good bowling attack, and we managed to pull it off thanks to Saini and Negi. Negi is used to handling that sort of pressure; he's done that before for Delhi and in the IPL as well." Neither team has won the trophy in recent years, which could add to the motivation levels as well. Mumbai last won in 2006-07, while Delhi did in 2012-13. As they often do in press-conferences, both sides stressed they would take the final as 'just another game'. Samant, though, admitted that the nerves would kick in later on Friday evening which could even lead to a sleepless night. It's understandable, for Mumbai and Delhi are two giant cities in Indian cricket whose history goes a long way.
Mumbai: Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer(capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Suryakumar Yadav, Aditya Tare(wk), Shivam Dubey, Shams Mulani, Royston Dias, Dhawal Kulkarni, Tushar Deshpande, Jay Gokul Bista, Siddhesh Lad, Eknath Kerkar, Akash Parkar, Vijay Gohil, Shardul Thakur, Akhil Herwadkar, Shubham Ranjane.
Delhi: Unmukt Chand(wk), Gautam Gambhir(capt), Dhruv Shorey, Nitish Rana, Himmat Singh, Pranshu Vijayran, Suboth Bhati, Lalit Yadav, Pawan Negi, Navdeep Saini, Kulwant Khejroliya, Hiten Dalal, Gaurav Kumar, Manan Sharma, Simarjeet Singh, Lakshay Thareja.