While Sachin Tendulkar was at the Wankhede Stadium for his final fling in competitive cricket, three of his team-mates who have been with him for almost a decade were training rigorously in suburban Mumbai – at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s Bandra Kurla Complex facility. Though Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – the first two being Tendulkar’s dear friends – will be missing the action during Tendulkar’s farewell Test, they will be more focused on making the most of an opportunity to impress the selectors in a high-profile Ranji Trophy group game between defending champions Mumbai and Delhi.
The sidelined trio has been gunning to return to the India whites ever since they were dropped earlier in the year. While Sehwag and Delhi captain Gambhir seem to be running out of time to make a case to be on the plane to South Africa – since their exclusion, both failed to put on big runs in their limited opportunities on the domestic circuit – Mumbai captain Zaheer will be keen to continue pressing for a return when the selectors name India’s squad for two Tests in South Africa.
Zaheer-Kulkarni vs Gambhir-Sehwag: If the Mumbai new-ball duo can strike early against Gambhir, the opener, and Sehwag in the middle order, not only will Mumbai win half the battle, but also reduce the Delhi duo’s chances of a Test comeback in South Africa next month
Jaffer vs Nehra: Despite being the clear leader in the list of most run-getters in Ranji Trophy, Jaffer has traditionally been susceptible to movement early on in his innings. If Nehra can exploit his weakness, he will do a lot of good to improving Delhi’s position on the points table.
Nayar vs Bhatia: The duo has been fighting tooth and nail to emerge as the best allrounder in domestic circuit for almost half a decade now. Obviously, both the sides will be banking on their respective allrounders to outdo the other and lend a great advantage to his team
And none of them would have asked for a better opportunity than facing each other in what is set to be a high-intensity affair. As stressed by Delhi coach Sanjeev Sharma, Mumbai-Delhi matches have traditionally been “like India-Pakistan or England-Australia matches”, which brings the best out of both the teams.
This time around, it’s not just the intensity that will be on display over the next four days. The match is also set to feature the highest quality cricket on the domestic circuit. Besides Sehwag and Gambhir, Delhi batting boasts of young talent in Unmukt Chand, the run-machine Mithun Manhas, and Rajat Bhatia, one of prime contenders for the best allrounder’s award on the domestic circuit. When it comes to bowling, Delhi have received a fillip with the return of fit-again former India pacer Ashish Nehra, who will form a formidable new-ball partnership with Sumit Narwal and Parvinder Awana.
No wonder then that Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni wasn’t willing to take Delhi “lightly” despite his team entering the match on the back of successive outright victories away from home. Though Kulkarni stressed that Mumbai will enjoy the home advantage, he would realise that even a slightest slip-up against the formidable Delhi outfit could cost them dearly, especially considering Mumbai didn’t play at the BKC facility for the entirety of the last season.
Mumbai’s batting – sans Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane – will have to depend on the ever-reliable Wasim Jaffer, who struck his 33rd Ranji ton against Punjab last week. Zaheer, on the other hand, will be hoping that Dhawal Kulkarni celebrates his selection in India’s ODI squad with a match-winning haul.