Ajit Agarkar has won all the six Ranji Trophy finals he has played in, but today, at the Wankhede Stadium against Saurashtra, he will walk out as skipper in the national championship final for the first time.
Undoubtedly, Mumbai’s decorated history would play on his mind. Out of 43 finals, the hosts have lost only four while Saurashtra will be playing their first in 75 years. To top it up, Mumbai have won all their last nine finals since the narrow loss to Haryana in 1991.
The list of Ranji-winning captains includes some of the biggest names of Indian cricket like Sunil Gavaskar (1976-77, 1983-84 & 1984-85), Polly Umrigar (1959-60 to 1962-63), Ajit Wadekar (1968-69, 1969-70, 1971-72 and 1972-73), Ashok Mankad (1974-75 & 1975-76) and Eknath Solkar
(1980-81). Legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who led Mumbai to the Ranji title in 1994-95, will be a key figure in Agarkar’s army.
It will be Mumbai’s 40th Ranji title if they topple Saurashtra, while Agarkar will add his name to the list of successful Mumbai captains in the premier domestic championship. Surely, a lot is at stake for Agarkar. “We have generally played well in finals. I suppose it comes with experience as we have got more than one guy who has played more than one final. That generally helps in winning big games. Plus, we have got the great man (Tendulkar),” Agarkar said on match eve.
“I am very happy with the way things have gone for us, from struggling a bit, to qualify, to now being in the final. Saurashtra, obviously, is a tough opposition who we cannot underestimate. We have had good performances from most in the squad. Everyone has chipped in at important times and that’s what you want. There have been stand-out ones like (Abhishek) Nayar, (Aditya) Tare and Wasim (Jaffer),” added Agarkar, who notched up his maiden century this season in the semi-final against Services in Delhi.
Mumbai are clearly firm favourites against a depleted Saurashtra, especially after the Indian team management reportedly decided not to release Cheteshwar Pujara and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja in spite of winning the England series in Mohali on Wednesday. The importance of Pujara (629 runs in three matches) and Jadeja (794 runs in five matches) to the Saurashtra team is far greater than Mumbai missing out on Rohit Sharma (712 runs in six matches) and Ajinkya Rahane (274 runs in three matches). Mumbai still have the likes of Tendulkar, Agarkar, Jaffer in their ranks. “There is nothing we can do about it. We have no option but to play with the players that are available. Even Mumbai have to play without Rohit and Ajinkya,” said Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra.
Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Shah said the presence of Jadeja and Pujara would have helped. “If they were with us, we would have been mentally up and the opponents would have felt more pressure. It’s a very big game for us. Mumbai is an experienced side. We would like a good start and put in our best effort in the first innings,” Shah concluded.