Mumbai: A depleted Mumbai outfit sans key batsmen Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nayar, and front-liner pacers Zaheer Khan and Dhawal Kulkarni, will take on Punjab in their last Ranji Trophy Elite Division Group A match in Mumbai from Wednesday.
Although without their regular players with Rahane, Rohit and Zaheer in Australia with the national team and Nayar out with injury while Kulkarni resting, Mumbai are facing no anxiety as they have already booked their quarter-final spot in the tournament.
The visitors, on the other hand, are in spot of bother to book the last available berth from the group.
Group leaders Karnataka (21 points), followed by Mumbai (20 points) are already in the last eight stage.
Meanwhile, Punjab who are also without their key players -- Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh -- have to put their best foot forward at the Wankhede Stadium here to score an outright victory over Mumbai.
But picking up five points against even a depleted Mumbai at their backyard is not going to be easy for the Uday Kaul-led Punjab, who currently have 15 points and are lying at third position in the group table.
Six teams -- three each from the two Elite divisions -- and the two finalists from the Plate group, would qualify for the quarterfinals.
If Punjab fail in their bid for an outright victory, they can still make it, but it will depend on the other results in the group in which Railways (13), Saurashtra (11) and last year`s champions Rajasthan (10) are still in with a chance to make it to the last eight.
Punjab`s bowling has been bolstered by the availability of lanky, unorthodox leg-break bowler Rahul Sharma whose confidence must be quite high after a good outing in his debut ODI against the West Indies at Indore where he took three wickets in his first three overs and in the previous game against Karnataka, in which he finished with four wickets.
Punjab`s top three batsmen this season have been Mayank Sidhana (545 runs from six games), Mandeep Singh (458 from five) and Amitoze Singh (369 from four). Even skipper Kaul (378 from five) and Karan Goel (463 from six) haven`t done too badly.
Opener Sarul Kanwar`s return to form with an innings of 89 in their previous game against table toppers Karnataka is also a welcome sign for the visitors, who would face a decent new ball attack from Mumbai in the form of Avishkar Salvi, Murtuza Hussain and Kshemal Waingankar.
Mumbai, too, would be happy with skipper Wasim Jaffer`s form, who notched up a ton in the game against Saurashtra and a half-century in the previous tie against UP, in the middle order, and is 50 short of overhauling former teammate and skipper Amol Muzumdar as the highest run-getter in the national championships.
Recalled opener and stumper Sushant Marathe also scored a ton against UP, while his opening partner, the underperforming Kaustubh Pawar also notched up a fifty and that should be a welcome sign for the hosts.
But the absence of Nayar, who has scored 582 runs in five matches at an average of 116 and is just behind the other main contributor with the bat, Suryakumar Yadav (593 runs in six games), is a major blow for Mumbai.
With Rohit Sharma, also averaging over 100, too absent from the ranks, the 39-time champions would depend heavily on Jaffer`s experience and Yadav`s daredevilry in the middle-order to build up on the opening provided by Marathe and Pawar.
In the bowling department, Salvi would be expected to do the early damage, though his form- six wickets from four games-is nothing much too boost about.
Hussain and Waingankar have grabbed only two and one wicket, respectively, and this would be a big worry for the hosts.
Spin is Mumbai`s trump card with off-spinner Ramesh Powar, having grabbed 22 wickets after an indifferent beginning to his season, and left-armer Iqbal Abdullah chipping in with 13 wickets.
But overall, the hosts` attack looks a bit weak and if Punjab batsmen apply themselves well they can take advantage of it.
The visitors` bowling attack also looks thin as they would miss Manpreet Gony, their most successful bowler with 20 wickets, including a fifer against Railways.
In Gony`s absence Harmeet Singh will lead the pace attack.
The Teams (from):
Mumbai: Wasim Jaffer (Capt), Ramesh Powar, Kshemal Waingankar, Onkar Gurav, Suryakumar Yadav, Ankit Chavan, Iqbal Abdullah, Murtuza Hussain, Praful Waghela, Parag Khanapurkar, Avishkar Salvi, Kaustubh Pawar, Hiken Shah, Sushant Marathe, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr). Coach: Sulakshan Kulkarni.
Punjab: Uday Kaul (Capt), Ravinder Singh, Sarul Kanwar, Karan Goel, Mayank Sidhana, Bipul Sharma, Amitoze Singh, Harmeet Singh, Baltej Singh, Rajwinder Singh, Rahul Sharma, Vishwas Bhalla, Rahul Singh, Navdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh.
Coach: Vikram Rathore.