Mumbai face tough Ranji season in absence of seniors but opportunity aplenty for youngsters

If Zaheer Khan is called for the tour to South Africa, then Mumbai will again have to bank on either Abhishek Nayar (second from left) or Wasim Jaffer  (second from right) to lead the team © PTI

Mumbai just about managed to escape with six points against Haryana in the Ranji Trophy. It all depended on Sachin Tendulkar to guide them to victory in his last match for Mumbai. With Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma in the Indian squad, Mumbai might finally have to expose a young side this season and it provides ample opportunities for others to present their value. Abhijit Banare explains more
A team which wins consistently knows how to find its way out of a deep hole. In the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season, Mumbai managed to enter the final of the tournament with just one outright win! All they did was find their momentum in the knockouts where it really mattered. It was one of the unconvincing run up to the finals. In this season though, the 40-time winners face another challenge of performing without their key players. While Mumbai are used to missing Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane who end up in the national team, the retirement of Ajit Agarkar and the uncertainty of Zaheer Khan throws up more questions. Below is a brief analysis.
The India contenders

In Rahane, Mumbai had their Rahul Dravid-like batsman at No 3. Even in the opening match against Haryana, Rahane stuck out there in the middle and provided the much-needed stability. With the series against West Indies and South Africa coming up, Rahane is likely to remain in the national contention and will miss out most of the early games. With Rohit being an integral part of India’s team across formats, Mumbai will be already prepared with a batsman in his place.
Mystery Zaheer Khan

The big risk though is appointing Zaheer Khan as the captain. Though he has been ignored for the West Indies series, the left-arm pacer with his fitness and form will surely be in contention for the tour to South Africa. Mumbai will again have to bank on either Abhishek Nayar or Wasim Jaffer to lead the team.

While not many are talking about it, but Agarkar’s absence will make a huge difference. He was an experienced player who was there with the team for an entire season like Jaffer. His craft with the ball and experience is too large to fill immediately.

Kautsubh Pawar has turned out to be an impressive opener. Even in the only outright win against Madhya Pradesh in the league phase of the previous season, Pawar had scored 111. Against Haryana in the second innings he batted like a typical khadoos batsman from Mumbai. This season will be an opportunity to stamp his place in the side and if the runs come more fluently the hope for a national contention will increase too. Akhil Herwadkar — the impressive batsman in the India Under-19 team should get an opportunity in the absence of senior players.

And it would be interesting to see if Arman Jaffer gets an opportunity to get into the squad. Even Siddhesh Lad, who is already in the squad is also an option. The batting in the middle-order appears brittle and Mumbai will have to take some risks to insert the youngsters in pressure situations. Wasim Jaffer and Abhishek Nayar will unquestionably have to take more responsibility. If Mumbai falter, then most likely it will be pointed towards a transition phase.

Considering the featherbed pitches in India, an outright win is worth its weight in gold. And there will be venues like Lahli, where six points are definitely up for grabs. Fortunately for Mumbai, they managed to scrape through. However, the batting needs to sustain if it has to play out those high-scoring draws. It will be interesting to see how well the new players perform. Going by the reputation of Mumbai, even the young players are well-prepared to take on the best in the country. If Mumbai manage to pull one more title, it will be a transition phase well achieved.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)