MUMBAI: Domestic cricket will get its due prominence and attention during the Ranji Trophy final 2007, pitting Mumbai at full strength against Bengal, buoyed by Sourav Ganguly's presence.
The established names have a reputation to maintain while the talented ones, thirsting for recognition, need to justify the opportunity given to them in front of the National selectors.
Captained by Amol Muzumdar, Mumbai came back from the dead twice in the Super League to make it to the final, so the champion status will be a forceful way of putting the record straight.
Averting relegation from the Super League with three outright wins and then an astonishing comeback to beat Baroda in the semifinals has seen the side bond together.
There is a sense of anticipation at the Wankhede Stadium. Zaheer Khan will be making his Mumbai debut on a hard wicket under humid conditions expected to test the best.
Deep Dasgupta leads a pack of motivated Bengal players, short on recognition but high on confidence after travelling a rough road to the decider, discovering strengths individually and as a group along the way.
The 2006 Ranji final loss at the hands of Uttar Pradesh was a harsh lesson. Bengal is determined to grab the second chance at fame, making the most of Ganguly's guiding hand when matching wits with Mumbai.
Mumbai's all-round competence rises several notches due to the availability of Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar and Zaheer. The players among the rest, shortlisted for the final, need to perform beyond potential alongside these match-winners from Team India.
Faced with the problem of supporting those who played a part in the team's league progress, the Mumbai selectors decided to accommodate 19 players in the dressing room, four excluded in the Baroda tie sharing space with the 15-member squad, including the stars.
Tendulkar to play
Muzumdar looks at the positive side of this dilemma. "Mumbai has always given players for National duty. When they return to domestic cricket, players understand that some of them will make way.
"The best possible eleven will play. Each one of them, those playing the final or sitting out, will realise how competitive it is to get into the Mumbai side," added the captain, confirming Tendulkar's availability for the decider.
Former India under-19 batsman Rohit Sharma and all-rounder Abhishek Nair are likely to be retained, apart from opener Wasim Jaffer, wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant and experienced left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni, in case the team management opts for two spinners.
Ganguly lends a cutting edge to a settled Bengal combination, a mix of seniors (Rohan Gavaskar and captain Deep Dasgupta) and youngsters (Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Manoj Tiwary, Sourav Sarkar and Ashok Dinda) who will revel under pressure, secure in the knowledge that the ex-India skipper is an old hand at finding ways out of tricky situations.
"The way he has come back and the work he has put in is amazing. Watching him at work is a motivation in itself," said the Bengal captain.
Bose will be watched
Ranadeb Bose remains the spearhead of Bengal's new-ball attack S.S. Paul is yet to recover from injury on a track expected to assist bounce and seam movement.
The five-day final (February 2-6) will give domestic cricket's highest wicket-taker this season (48 wickets) a timely chance to assess himself against batsmen of the calibre of Jaffer, Tendulkar and the in-form Muzumdar.
Mumbai's bowlers with wicket-taking ability Zaheer, Agarkar and Powar supported by Nair and Kulkarni are a nightmare for the batsmen, though at the same time offering a chance for Ganguly, who just loves the smell of battle.
The teams (from): Mumbai: Amol Muzumdar (capt.), Wasim Jaffer, Sahil Kukreja, Sachin Tendulkar, Hiken Shah, Rohit Sharma, Vinayak Samant, Abhishek Nair, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Ramesh Powar, Nilesh Kulkarni, Wilkin Mota, Swapnil Hazare, Rajesh Verma, Bhavin Thakkar, Prashant Naik, Kshemal Waingankar and Iqbal Abdulla; Coach: Pravin Amre.
Bengal: Deep Dasgupta (capt.), Subhomoy Das, Arindam Das, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Manoj Tiwary, Sourav Ganguly, Rohan Gavaskar, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Sourashish Lahiri, Sourav Sarkar, Ranadeb Bose, Ashok Dinda, Shiv Shankar Singh, Amitava Chakraborty and Kamal Hassan Mondal; Coach: Paras Mhambrey.
Umpires: K. Hariharan and Pratap Kumar; Third umpire: A.Y. Gokhale; Match referee: B. Raghunath.