Nothing would have prepared the Indian cricket fan with keen interest in domestic cricket for a Mumbai-Saurashtra title match for the prestigious Ranji Trophy.
After playing nearly 42 days of hard and engaging cricket against assorted opposition, in different conditions, the 39-time winner Mumbai has entered the final for a record 44th time.
It was not easy, though, for Mumbai, led by all-rounder Ajit Agarkar who demonstrated splendid resolve to carve out a century against Services in the semifinal and lead his team to victory on the extended sixth day.
Incidentally, Mumbai won the BCCI’s under-25 title defeating Saurashtra.
While Mumbai was expected to reach the final after a nail-biting win over Madhya Pradesh in the last league match at Indore and show of supremacy against Baroda in the quarterfinals, Saurashtra’s progress to the final was marked by collective, gutsy, heart-warming displays against Madhya Pradesh in the last league match and fancied teams like Karnataka in the quarterfinals and Punjab in the semifinals.
Cheteshwar Pujara baulked Karnataka with an inspiring 352 in the second innings at the Saurashtra University Ground, but the Jaydev Shah-led Saurashtra came out with flying colours against Punjab, which included Harbhajan Singh with 99 matches and 406 wickets in Tests under his belt.
Virtually unknown to the cricketing world, off-spinner Vishal Joshi (nine wickets) and left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (three wickets in the second innings) fashioned a memorable victory, thoroughly exploiting the worn out surface on the fifth morning.
Left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat also chipped in with timely breakthroughs for Saurashtra to look at the final with confidence at a high.
Mumbai largely benefitted from Sachin Tendulkar’s availability in three matches (137 against Railways, 108 against Baroda and 56 against Services) and Zaheer Khan. Its batting has also clicked with fantastic efforts from Abhishek Nayar (940 runs, 3x100 and 8x50), Rohit Sharma (712, 3x100, 2x50), Wasim Jaffer (703, 2x100, 4x50), Hiken Shah (718, 3x100, 3x50), Aditya Tare (839, 2x100, 3x50 and 33 catches at the wicket), Kaustubh Pawar (583, 2x100, 3x50).
Left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan took 33 wickets, followed by seamers Dhawal Kulkarni 21, Nayar 16, Agarkar 12, Javed Khan 10 and Zaheer Khan 9.
For Saurashtra, Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja topped the batting averages with 629 at 125.80 (one triple century and a century) and 794 runs at 113.42, (two triple centuries).
But the find of the season has been right-hander Sheldon Jackson, who has scored 742 runs with three 100s and four 50s.
Sagar Jogiyani (618), Arpit Vasavada (544 with centuries against Mumbai and Karnataka), Kamlesh Makwana (511), Sitanshu Kotak (451) and Jaydev Shah (431) have made their presence felt.
Among the bowlers, the spinners Joshi, R. Jadeja, D. Jadeja, Nayan Doshi and Makwana took 87 wickets and seamer Unadkat 20.
The teams met in the league stage at the Khanderi stadium in mid-December and Mumbai scored 606 for five in the first innings and 169 for five in the second, while Saurashtra made 300 in the first.
Mumbai will start the final with home advantage, but the wicket at the Wankhede can decline enough for the Saurashtra spinners to make an impact.
Mumbai would be happy to have Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma and Saurashtra, Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja back in the teams to make it a cracker of a final.