Hardik Pandya has recovered from the lower back injury that he sustained in the Asia Cup in September. @ AFP
Hardik Pandya has recovered from the lower back injury that he sustained in the Asia Cup in September. @ AFP

A severely depleted Mumbai, languishing low down in Groups A and B combined Ranji Trophy 2018-19 points table, face an uphill task against West Zone rivals Baroda when the two clash in the four-day Elite Group A game at the Wankhede Stadium from Friday.

The 41-time champions are without several top players, including those who are doing national duty in Australia, and are fielding a totally inexperienced team in their second home game.

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Mumbai are lying a lowly 16th out of 18 teams with just five points from the first four games in the combined Groups (A and B) table.

The hosts thus need nothing less than an outright win over Baroda, and that too with a bonus point to boot, to keep alive their hopes of entering the quarter-finals by finishing in the top five of the combined (Groups A and B) table.

Baroda, on the other hand, are sitting pretty in fifth place with 13 points from five games.

The have also been boosted by the availability of allrounder Hardik Pandya, who has recovered from the lower back injury that he sustained in the Asia Cup in September.

Mumbai have also got a shot in the arm with the inclusion of Shreyas Iyer after his stint with the India A squad in New Zealand. He is expected to return from Kiwiland on Thursday and will have to take the field straightaway on the morrow.

Iyer, opener Jay Bista, captain Siddhesh Lad and former skipper Aditya Tare need to bat well with good support from the lower order batsmen like the in-form allrounder Shivam Dube against the varied Baroda attack.

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The bowling of the hosts looks especially weak in the absence of injured and experienced medium pacers Dhawal Kulkarni and Shardul Thakur. Even in the slow bowling department, the hosts appear second-best to their rivals.

Tare told reporters on match eve that the individuals need to step up and perform if Mumbai have to make the grade.

“It’s pretty challenging, especially with the position we are in on the points table. We had a strong word among ourselves after the last game (against Maharashtra in Pune). It’s important for the individual players to step up and improve. If players lift their performance, everything will fall into place,” he said.

Stressing that the team would not have any major advantage other than the comfort of playing at home, Tare welcomed Iyer’s return to the side. “He’s a top-class player, the best player we have had in the last three-four seasons. It will be great to have him back tomorrow,” Tare said.

Baroda skipper Kedar Devdhar sounded upbeat about the team’s chances to make it to the knockout rounds and insisted that no instructions have been given to handle Pandya with a kid glove.

“We won our last match outright and before that had chased 520. Our morale is high. The team is doing well and we are confident to qualify,” Devdhar said.

On Pandya, he said, “It depends on the situation, on how much he is needed. Obviously, he’s represented the country and has come back from injury. We don’t intend to overuse him but if we need him we can use him. There has been no instruction from anyone on how many overs he can bowl.”

Looking at Mumbai, he said, the hosts looked a bit weak in bowling as compared to the earlier games in the season. “They have a good batting line up. (But) their bowling line up is a bit weak as compared to the last four-five matches,” said Devdhar.

In other Group A matches, Gujarat take on Karnataka in Surat, hosts Maharashtra clash with Saurashtra in Nashik and reigning champions Vidarbha cross swords with Railways at the Karnail Singh Stadium in New Delhi.