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A new challenge for Mumbai

Mumbai have won the Ranji Trophy 40 times, but curiously, they have never played Vidarbha in India’s premier domestic tournament. So if there is a reason to look forward to this clash at the Wankhede Stadium starting today, this intriguing statistic easily tops the list.

Abhishek Nayar
Mumbai batsman Abhishek Nayar during a training session at the Wankhede Stadium yesterday. Pics/Atul Kamble

Another aspect that observers would be interested in is which of the two coaches — Mumbai’s Sulakshan Kulkarni and Vidarbha’s Sairaj Bahutule — walks away with the bragging rights at the end of the game. After all, there is little that the duo don’t know about each other.

While Bahutule spent a major part of his career wearing the Mumbai crest, Kulkarni did the same for a long time, and then followed it up with a coaching stint in Vidarbha.

That’s the reason Bahutule turned nostalgic while talking about his team’s prospects against the defending champions. “What can I say? Coming back to a ground you have spent virtually your whole career in is truly exciting,” said the former India leg spinner.

Sulakshan Kulkarni and Sairaj Bahutule
Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni and Vidarbha’s Sairaj Bahutule (right) 

Kulkarni, on his part, exuded pride in having coached the team till not very long ago. “I know most of the Vidarbha boys. They are improving gradually, so let’s see how they perform,” he said.

On paper, Mumbai start favourites, but given the intensity of their nets session yesterday, it was evident that they are not taking this game lightly. “We know the consequences of getting over-confident very well, so we are not going to underestimate our opponents.

What’s more, they have been doing very well this season, so we have to be watchful,” said Kulkarni. For now, Mumbai are comfortably placed in Group A with 13 points off three games while their opponents lie sixth with eight points.

Mumbai beat Haryana and Punjab on the road and shared the spoils with Delhi after their game ended in a captivating first-innings tie. On the other hand, Vidarbha have beaten Haryana, lost to Gujarat and were left disheartened after conceding a first innings leads against Odisha and Karnataka.

Today’s match also assumes importance given that fact that it will feature pacemen Zaheer Khan facing off against Umesh Yadav. Both players are part of South Africa-bound Test squad and both of them are trying to hit peak form after recovering from injuries.

While Zaheer, the Mumbai captain, took it easy during practice yesterday, Umesh rolled his arms around but kept the intensity in check.

The behaviour of the pitch is something no one was willing to hazard a guess about, but Kulkarni was happy with it and felt it would assist both batsmen as well as bowlers. “Sudhir Naik has done a good job and the pitch looks beautiful. Everyone should enjoy playing on it.” 

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