Nagpur, February 2: The battle between India stars Cheteshwar Pujara and Umesh Yadav will make for an intriguing chief sub-plot when Saurashtra make one more attempt to win their elusive Ranji Trophy title against the defending champions Vidarbha in the final starting on Sunday.
The battle lines are drawn and the summit clash will not just be about Pujara and Umesh only but also about Wasim Jaffer, who is a domestic doyen in every sense of the terms. At the age of 40, the reflexes may have gone down but sheer class and improved fitness has ensured that Jaffer remains a force to reckon with in domestic cricket with 1003 runs to his name before the final.
Statistically, he is only second to Milind Kumar (1331), who freelanced for Sikkim but if things are put in perspective, in spirit he has again been the premier performer in the national championship. Saurashtra do have an edge with Pujara in their line-up but Jaffer's flair has the power to negate it.
He has been Vidarbha's batting mainstay this season with four hundreds, including a double ton. India's hero during the Australia Test series, however downplayed his presence. "It's not that Saurashtra will have edge because of my presence. This team has got some exciting youngsters like Harvik (Desai) and Arpit (Vasavada). This team has done well for some time as a unit," Pujara told PTI after a net session.
"If we play like the way we did in the quarterfinals and the semifinal, we have a good chance," said Pujara, whose anchored two tough chases against Uttar Pradesh in quarter-finals and Karnataka in the semi-finals.
The final will be a test of batting depths as both sides have capable willow wielders till No 9. Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak and captain Jaydev Unadkat echoed the same sentiment, underlining that one or other player has raised his hand in different crunch situations.
Sheldon Jackson (838 runs) and former India U-19 Desai (763 runs) have been the batting mainstays for Saurashtra when Pujara was on national duty. "It's about those 11 guys. It has been a dream season for us. We won some great games in the knockouts and even before that Saurashtra played one of the best games ever. It's one more game and we are looking for a fairytale end," said Unadkat.
It's ditto for defending champions. The run-chart led by Jaffer, has at least eight such batsmen, who have 30-plus average with five of them figuring in 10 matches. Their ever-dependable skipper Faiz Fazal (786 runs) and young Akshay Wadkar (680 runs) have made a telling contributions in team's superb run with three hundreds each.
The defending champions have the edge in bowling with Umesh in their ranks but Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat could also prove to be a handful if he gets some help from the track. Umesh, who has a great track record on flat decks, has picked up 21 wickets in the last two matches. He straight away made an impact after coming back from Australia, troubling Uttarakhand and Kerala.
Against Kerala in the semi-finals, he single handedly won the match with a 12-wicket haul. Along with Umesh there is current India A regular Rajneesh Gurbani, Yash Thakur, Suniket Bingewar and India U-19 World Cupper Aditya Thakare. Gurbani has not made a big impact as he has struggled to pick wickets.
However captain Fazal defended the bowler saying that his contribution cannot be ignored in any way even though he has picked only six wickets. "The score-sheet would not say he has performed well but he has been doing an important role," he said.
With 44 wickets left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate has been a vital cog this season for the defending champions. Saurashtra do not have much option as far bowling is concerned as they have relied heavily on Unadkat and slow-left arm orthodox bowler Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, who has been architect of their good run with 52 wickets in 10 matches. Left-arm medium pacer Chetan Sakariya has come up well and they need someone like Kamlesh Makwana to perform at the big stage.
Match Starts at 9:30 am IST