Mumbai: A battle royal is on the cards when under pressure Mumbai, gunning for an outright victory to seal a quarter final berth, clash with high-flying defending champions Karnataka in a Ranji Trophy Group A match commencing at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday.
While it's a must-win and final league game for 40-time champions Mumbai, who are trailing fourth in the league table with 17 points to their credit behind toppers Karnataka (32 points), no. 2 Tamil Nadu (23) and no. 3 Baroda (18), the visitors are under no such pressure after having booked their spot in the last eight with a match in hand.
These two outfits have fought many a memorable battle in the past for honours and the upcoming one too promises a no-holds barred encounter, especially with rival captains - Aditya Tare and Vinay Kumar - assuring that victory is what their respective outfits would be aiming for.
"We have prepared well for this game and we are going to play for a win. The victory over Baroda has given us a lot of confidence, especially as it was achieved without some top players (like Wasim Jaffer and Abhishek Nayar)," said Mumbai captain and wicket keeper Tare, who took over the mantle from Suryakumar Yadav prior to the away match in Vadodara.
"We are treating this game as a pre-quarter final and will go for a win. We are confident, but are taking it one game at a time. Beating Mumbai is always special and playing at the Wankhede Stadium against them is a great opportunity," said Kumar who is the second-highest wicket taker for his team with 29 scalps to his credit in this Ranji season.
Karnataka's progress this season, after having swept to the title last year, has been spectacular. Barring a small backward step they took against Baroda in Mysore by conceding the first innings lead, the southern team has rolled over all their rivals to notch up 4 outright wins from 7 games so far.
They have five batsmen who have amassed over 400 runs, including newly India-capped opener K L Rahul who comes into the game after notching up a marathon 337 against Uttar Pradesh in Bengaluru.
Apart from Rahul, others who have topped the 400-mark are all rounder Shreyas Gopal (558 runs), Robin Uthappa (517), Manish Pandey (447), C M Gautam (400).
The visiting team has a formidable batting line-up which would be hard to crack by Mumbai who depend a lot on medium pacer Shardul Thakur (25 wickets with three five-fors but none at home this season).
"Rahul is a youngster and he is in his third or fourth year, made his Test debut and got a hundred in Australia and after that he came back and created history by scoring a triple-century. He is performing really well and it will be healthy competition between Manish, Karun Nair, Robin and others," said the Karnataka captain.
The inclusion of left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh after a team shake-up has slightly improved the lacklustre Mumbai attack which struggled to dismiss Jammu and Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh at the same home venue earlier on.
"Every team has taken advantage at home and we haven't won here yet at home. We have played only two games here and this will be our third. We want to do well at home. Although things didn't go our way in the previous games we look to turn things around," said Tare about Mumbai's surprisingly poor run at home this season.
Karnataka have a much superior all-round bowling attack, especially with the new ball. Captain Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun (27 wickets) and left arm Srinath Aravind (29 wickets) have proved a handful for other teams.
"He (Shreyas Gopal) has been doing well for us both in the batting and bowling department. We had brought him in the team as a bowler and he is performing really well with the bat as well. It's a very good plus, having him in the team," said Vinay about the young leg spinner.
"Looks a good batting track and maybe there will be help for the spinners, but let's see," he remarked about the pitch.
Mumbai's batting has slowly but surely improved and the mainstays have been Yadav - who has hit two tons at home this season - and Shreyas Iyer, the find of the season for the hosts with 610 runs in his kitty at plus 61 per innings.
Tare comes into the game after scoring his first ton of the season against Baroda which should stand him in good stead in his second match as leader of the team.