Mumbai: Bidding to regain the Ranji Trophy title for the 40th time, hosts Mumbai will face six-time winners Karnataka in a high-profile Elite Group A tie at the Brabourne Stadium on Wednesday.
The two stalwart teams, tied at the top of the pool with nine points apiece, have produced top drawer contests in the past.
Notably in their last meeting in the final of the national championship at Mysore two seasons ago, Mumbai prevailed by six runs in a no-holds-barred battle.
Mumbai, who have captured the coveted title five times in the last eleven seasons, appear to have a slight edge in batting over Karnataka especially with the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane.
The visitors, who bagged back-to-back title in 1997-98 and 1998-99 before hitting a drought however, on the other hand seem to hold a clear advantage in bowling, particularly in the pace department.
With captain R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and Sreenath Aravind -- all of whom have been capped by the country in recent years -- in their ranks Karnataka`s bowling unit looks to be a formidable one and something which the hosts need to look at.
Mumbai in turn will rely on veteran Ajit Agarkar, who is to play his first match of the new season, Avishkar Salvi and Dhawal Kulkarni to see them through.
In the spin department, Karnataka will bank on K P Appanna, who is coming off a superb 11-wicket haul in their previous match against Railways.
On the other hand Mumbai`s spin trump cards Ramesh Powar and Iqbal Abdulla looked listless on a batting-friendly surface at the Brabourne against last defending champions, Rajasthan.
Mumbai got three points from the game against Rajasthan, despite allowing the latter to rattle up a plus-500 score, the hosts rode on a superb batting display by Abhishek Nayar, who struck a double ton in his comeback tie, Rohit Sharma (100) and an attractive 87 by Suryakumar Yadav.
Though skipper Wasim Jaffer did not prosper in his previous outings so far, he is capable of playing a long innings. He is likely to open with Rahane, who was released from the Indian Test squad to play in the match, which will push young Kaustubh Pawa to the reserves.
Karnataka openers K B Pawan and Robin Uthappa have found form going into the game, the former scoring an unbeaten double ton against Rajasthan and the latter scoring a whirlwind 117 off 141 balls with five sixes and ten fours against Railways.
Visiting team skipper Vinay Kumar expects a keen contest between the two teams as in the past and said his team`s confidence was high after the comprehensive victory over Railways at Delhi`s Karnail Singh stadium.
"Both teams have 9 points. We can expect a good contest. We are high on confidence after our performance in the first two games. It`s good to see all our batsmen chipping in. Robin Uthappa played a crucial knock against Railways on Karnail Singh wicket which was low and slow," he said.
Kumar also singled out Appanna`s display. "Appanna has bowled well after coming in for Sunil Joshi."
He expected the Brabourne wicket for the match to aid the batsmen. "It looks like a batting track."
Mumbai captain Jaffer also foresees a keen battle and said the inclusion of Rahane and Agarkar has added meat to his side.
"Both teams have been playing really well and a Karnataka-Mumbai match has always produced a good contest. This time it will be no different.”
"Rahane will add to our batting strength while Agarkar has got lot of experience, he is a good bowler and a handy batsman too," he remarked.