Updated: January 9, 2014 5:09:03 pm
As Zaheer Khan, following an extended stretching routine, made his way to the media interaction, the Mumbai sun forced the skipper to squint at the Wankhede Stadium. That squint gradually deepened into a grimace during the course of this interaction, as questions regarding Mumbai’s faltering batting line-up were thrown thick and fast at him.
None of the Mumbai batsmen figure in the top-ten highest run-scorers this season, with Aditya Tare being their best run-scorer with 570 runs from 15 innings. The defending champions’ trusted run-machine, Wasim Jaffer, also seems to have run a little dry with the former captain floundering at number 30 on the 2013-14 batting list, with 538 runs in 14 innings.
To make matters worse, the 40-times Ranji champions will go into their quarterfinal against Maharashtra without Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, as both batsmen are New Zealand-bound cricketers. And to rub salt into what already looks like a serious wound, Hiken Shah and Siddhesh Lad, batsmen who showed signs of coming into form over the previous two games, will miss out on this clash due to injury.
Shah’s absence will definitely be felt by Mumbai, as the middle-order will now comprise of fresh recruits, without a senior hand to steady the ship. Zaheer admitted as much, saying: “Hiken is someone we are definitely going to miss. He has played some really good knocks to get the team here.” Shah has 428 runs in 13 innings and is the most experienced batsman after Jaffer in the current Mumbai squad.
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Maharashtra, on the other hand, flaunt the luxury of having two of their top-order batsmen side-by-side at the top of the run-getters charts. Harshad Khadiwale has 930 runs while Kedar Jadhav has 865. Also, two other Maharashtra top-order batsman, Vijay Zol and Ankeet Bawne, have 400-plus runs this season.
In place of Shah, Zaheer hinted that Vineet Indulkar will perhaps fill one up vacancy in the middle order. Indulkar, who last played a first-class match in 2010 for Himachal Pradesh, will mark his return for Mumbai for whom he last played nearly a decade ago, back in January 2006.
Indulkar, though, has performed in his Mumbai jersey, having scored 1039 runs in 30 innings at 41.56. Zaheer also backed the returning Indulkar to hold his own in this important, do-or-die game. “Vineet has been around for a while. He has played the Ranji Trophy before and I am sure he can deal with the kind of pressure we will face at this stage.”
However, while their batting is stuttering, the bowlers have been doing quite well. With the guile of Vishal Dabholkar and the pace of Javed Khan and Shardul Thakur, Mumbai have often wrested back the intiative following a dismal batting performance. Dabholkar is currently fourth on the list of highest wicket-takers with 38 scalps in eight matches at a tidy average of 24.57. Khan and Thakur have 22 and 21 wickets apiece while Iqbal Abdulla, the left-arm tweaker who walked away with 11 wickets from Mumbai’s last gasp victory over Gujarat, will do well to boost the Mumbai attack.
Zaheer, who singled out Thakur for special praise, said that his nippy pace and ability to reverse the ball will always come in handy for the defending champions. He also added that the wicket looked like a typical Wankhede wicket, whose grassy surface would offer enough bounce to keep the bowlers interested.
A good bowling wicket usually means a result — something that hasn’t happened often in the past when these two sides have met. Mumbai have played Maharashtra 61 times, winning 16 and drawing 43. However, when Mumbai last faced Maharashtra in December 2007 at the Wankhede, the visitors came away with three first-innings points, putting out a typically dominating batting display.
Could that happen again? With a weak Mumbai middle-order batting on a bowler-friendly track, one can never say.
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