Battle royal on the cards as TN take on Mumbai

Mumbai: A no-holds-barred battle is on the cards when 39-time champions Mumbai will take on their long-time rivals Tamil Nadu in the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy, starting at the Wankhede Stadium.

Though depleted by the absence of regular players Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane (both of them are in Australia), Ajit Agarkar, injured wicketkeeper-batsman Sushant Marathe and swing bowler Avishkar Salvi, the hosts have shown admirable resilience and gumption to make the grade.

And Tamil Nadu certainly would not be taking any chances against the hosts.

When Mumbai were ruling the roost in domestic cricket I the 1950s and 1960s, leading to 15 consecutive titles, Tamil Nadu could never even take a first innings lead.

However, over the last two decades, the scenario has changed with Tamil Nadu scoring outright victories as well as taking the first innings honours on a few occasions, notably in their last two meetings in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

In 22 previous meetings, going back to the tournament`s inaugural year 1936, Mumbai emerged winners on all but four occasions, their first reverse occurring as late as February 1996 -- in the 14th clash -- when Tamil Nadu won by 153 runs at Tirunelveli in the quarterfinals.

While Tamil Nadu, who have lifted the title only twice, have traditionally relied on their spin bowling in the past, notably the famed duo of Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Vaman Kumar, they appear to carry an edge in batting this time around.

Barring the 30-year-old skipper Laxmipathy Balaji, who has grabbed 288 wickets in 83 first-class matches, including 27 in eight Tests, the visiting team`s attack lacks sufficient experience.

They are, in fact, relying on two newcomers – medium pacer Jagannath Kaushik and off spinner Sunny Gupta – along with another young left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas to support their captain and fellow-seamer V Yo Mahesh.