Maharashtra rose from Ranji Trophy Pool C this season, featuring second-rung teams wanting to rub shoulders with the elite squads, into the 2013-14 title clash at Hyderabad. “It shows the depth in Indian cricket, where a team from the lower division can qualify for the ultimate prize in first-class cricket,” quipped coach Surendra Bhave.

He was captain when Maharashtra last had the Ranji Trophy in sight, losing to Punjab in the 1992-93 decider. Now Bhave gets a second chance following four outright wins on the trot (beat Bengal in knockout semis and Mumbai in knockout quarters, beat Assam and Himachal Pradesh in Pool C league stage). The final is at Hyderabad from January 29.

Asked about final preparations for a team so far unbeaten in Ranji 2013-14, he said: “Youngsters today are confident and want to win. They fear no one as we saw against Mumbai and Bengal. For them reputations of rival players don’t matter. Maharashtra batsmen watch the ball; don’t bother about who the bowler is. Our bowlers focus on pitching in the right area without worrying about the person facing them.”

Maharashtra players did not explode into celebrations after winning by 10 wickets against Bengal at the Holkar stadium. No player ran out from the dressing room to greet openers Harshad Khadiwale or Chirag Khurana. “The fact that boys did not celebrate an entry into the Ranji final shows they feel the task is incomplete and more can be achieved,” noted Bhave.

Captained by Rohit Motwani, the players shook hands with opponents and assembled for a team meeting in the dressing room. “Luckily for me, this group has players with multiple skills and so can adjust to different positions. For example Sangram Attitkar can bat at number seven the way he performs at the crease at number three.”

He confirmed that batting mainstay Vijay Zol may miss the Ranji final due to India U-19 preparations for the World Cup T20. “I think so, but with Kedar Jadhav and Ankit Bawne in form, the team will adjust to Zol’s absence. It is about making the most of opportunities for the others who get chosen.”

Maharashtra was not thinking about playing the final at the start of the season. “We were in Pool C, so qualifying for the knockouts was tough, as teams at that level can trouble elite teams. After topping the group with four victories out of eight games, we faced Mumbai and defeated them. That was the turning point, I feel the boys believe they can tackle anyone.”

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