BENGALURU: Mumbai have always been the team to beat in domestic circuit. The 41-time Ranji Trophy champions, however, have often found themselves on the back foot owing to their star players getting national team call-ups, especially in the limited-over format.
They have won the Vijay Hazare Trophy just twice since the 2002-03 season when the new format came in to play. The last time they won was way back in 2006-07. Like every season, it was no different this time. Mumbai buoyed by the presence of skipper Ajinkya Rahane started as one of the favourites. With Prithvi Shaw and Shreyas Iyer in their ranks, they were off to a flyer in Elite Group A. In the first three games where Rahane, Shaw and Iyer were present, Mumbai won by impressive margins.
But once Shaw and Rahane left to join the national team, the batting unit suffered a bit. Mumbai were dismissed for 245 against Punjab. However, the Vinayak Samant-coached side never stopped winning. When big scores stopped coming, their bowlers took charge. While Karnataka suffered due to the absence of Manish Pandey and KL Rahul and overdependence on Mayank Agarwal, Mumbai were not dependent on their star players as replacements came forward to contribute. For example, after Shaw’s departure, replacement opener Akhil Herwadkar slammed a ton against Goa. Sunday was no different. Mumbai were bolstered by Rohit Sharma’s inclusion. While the small crowd had come to watch Rohit bat, their bowlers made the difference yet again.
This despite Shardul Thakur missing the game. Pacer Tushar Deshpande, who is playing his first List A tournament, returned with career-best figures of 5/23 as Mumbai crushed Plate group toppers Bihar by nine wickets in the first quarterfinal. Opting to field, Mumbai bowled out Bihar for a paltry 69 and chased the target in 12.3 overs.
“The best thing about the team is everybody backs each other. We lost players in the middle of the tournament but when they go out, others do well to fill the void. That’s important for a team and that’s how we have kept winning. That’s how a good team should play,” Deshpande said. “I hope we can keep the momentum going.”