A gritty Gujarat eyeing their maiden title will pose a stiff challenge for record champions Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy final, beginning at the Holkar Stadium here from Tuesday.
Both Mumbai and Gujarat go into the title clash in high spirits, having overcome a fighting Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand respectively in the semifinals.
While 41 times champions Mumbai are expected to last the distance, it will be a stern test of character for Gujarat who are in their first final in 66 years with the baggage of never winning the prestigious domestic trophy.
However, Gujarat have given enough signs that they are a team improving gradually, having won the Vijay Hazare last season and Syed Mushtaq Ali in 2012-13.
If Gujarat can display the same courage and determination that got them out out of the woods earlier in the tournament, they have a fair chance of stopping defending champions Mumbai from pocketing another title.
The Parthiv Patel led side has already suffered a blow with their frontline pacer Jasprit Bumrah being unavailable for the big game due to national duty. The 23-year-old needs to be in Pune ahead of the first ODI against England on January 15. Bumrah alongside veteran pacer R P Singh were the stand out bowlers in the semifinal against Jharkhand. His career-best six for 29 in the second innings paved the way for a 123-run victory after Gujarat had conceded the first innings lead.
In Bumrah’s absence, Mehul Patel, who has taken six wickets in three matches this season, is expected to share the workload with RP Singh and Rush Kalaria. There will also be an air of familiarity when the teams meet on Tuesday as they had faced each other in the group stage. Gujarat walked away from that game in Hubbali in November with a psychological win as they took the all important first innings lead by bowling out Mumbai for 422 in response to their first innings total of 437.
The game also saw Gujarat opener and tournament’s leading scorer Priyank Kirit Panchal score his first double hundred of the season. He ended up amassing 314 in the following game and his tournament tally now stands at 1270 runs at a staggering average of 97.69.
It goes without saying his performance will be pivotal to Gujarat’s chances in the final. Panchal will be expected to give his team another good start alongside in-form opener Samit Gohel, who has slammed close to 900 runs this season at 68.38 including a record breaking 359 not out against Odisha in the quarter-finals.