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Knockout tie, no escape route

Sunday, 6 January 2013 - 8:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Mumbai have reached the quarters despite the bowlers’ forgettable showing; the Wankhede wicket should keep their pacers interested against Baroda.

Matches 8, Wins 1, Draws 7. We are talking about Mumbai here. Despite having a rather ordinary season — by any standards, mind you — the 39-time champions find themselves in the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy. Thankfully, the yesteryear giants did manage to attain the first-innings lead in five of those drawn encounters. And if not for that outright victory in a humdinger against Madhya Pradesh in Indore last month, Sachin Tendulkar would have had to be content with his usual knocking sessions at one of those aristocratic clubhouses in Bandra.

With 23 points, they finished their Group ‘A’ commitments in third position. Baroda were slightly better off with two outright wins against Haryana and Odisha. But they garnered no more than 22 points to assume third position in Group ‘B’.

Well, Mumbai’s bowling attack has been so inept, it’s not even funny. They’ve snaffled 117 of a possible 160 wickets thus far. Only thrice have they pocketed 20 wickets in a match. Their captains have shied away from enforcing the follow-on. Against Gujarat, they refused to go for glory when the target was, hang on, 135 in 41 overs!

No Mumbai batsman features on the list of top 10 run-scorers. The bowlers are worse off. Ankeet Chavan (28 wickets) is 22nd on the chart. And their fielding? The less said the better. Mumbai have dropped a mind-boggling 40 catches — yes, that many — in eight matches. Coach Sulakshan Kulkarni doesn’t believe in giving his boys catching practice, it seems. And it’s showing.

Curator Sudhir Naik has prepared a wicket with enough grass to keep Ajit Agarkar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Javed Khan, and even Nayar, interested. There’s no Zaheer Khan, though. He’s down with a calf strain. Mumbai are also without the prolific duo of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. But with Tendulkar around, they’ll breathe easy. Wasim Jaffer will be at the Wankhede but his mind would be at the Lilavati Hospital where his aged father is battling for life.

Maverick Baroda skipper Yusuf Pathan is ruing the absence of younger brother Irfan and Munaf Patel. But he does have a reliable new-ball pair in Murtuja Vahora and Gagandeep Singh Natt.  Baroda must be commended for making it this far without much help from Irfan (injured after the season opener) and Yusuf, who has played just two games.

The contest, first between the sides since that madcap semifinal in 2007 — Mumbai won after being reduced to 0/5 in the second innings — will be played on the pitch relished by Monty Panesar in November. And that means Chavan and Vishal Dabholkar of Mumbai, and Bhargav Bhatt (24) of Baroda, will be in business from Day Three, maybe earlier. Mumbai would do well to remember this is a five-day encounter on a ‘result-oriented’ wicket. There are no ‘escape routes’. And they do need to find a way to get 20 wickets.

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