After an impressive comeback on India’s tour of South Africa, pacer Zaheer Khan is hoping to inspire Mumbai in the crucial Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Maharashtra, starting Wednesday.
In the absence of Zaheer and a few other leading players, like Abhishek Nayar and Dhawal Kulkarni, defending champions Mumbai struggled in the group stages before a thrilling outright victory against Gujarat in their final league match helped them advance.
“We are looking forward to the game. The last win has definitely helped in boosting the confidence of the team. The morale is high and everyone is looking forward to the knock-out stage now,” said Zaheer, on Tuesday, at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.
Mumbai, who won their 40th Ranji Trophy title last season, struggled this season, and Zaheer, who will be leading the side, believes one of the reasons for the not-too-good showing is captain Ajit Agarkar’s retirement before the start of the ongoing season as well as the influx of the new players to fill in for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, who were away on international duty.
“It can happen when a team is going through the transition phase. Ajit [Agarkar] was instrumental in keeping everyone on track and together, and helping the youngsters when it comes to bowling. Right now, we have a few youngsters playing, and we have been trying new bowlers as well, to see who can be useful in the coming years for Mumbai cricket.
“The same goes with the batting as well; so that is why you will see that there are many guys who have played this season. It is a transition that the team is going through,” he said.
Mumbai’s batting has come in for a lot of flak from all quarters, with senior pro Wasim Jaffer also slamming the youngsters for giving more importance to Twenty20 cricket rather than first class.
Zaheer said it is a big achievement to qualify for the last eight stage despite all the batting woes, insisting the morale of the team is high at the moment.
“The good thing is that we have qualified; that is what’s most important. The guys have performed at the right time. The last game was very crucial for us; we had to win that game, especially when you know that Gujarat needed only one point. We managed to qualify; it is a big achievement on the team’s part.
“I always look at the positives. Now, it is the knock-out stage, so every game counts. Sometimes, when you have matches like these and you are not supposed to qualify but you do, then you know that the morale is especially high,” he said.
The veteran pacer reckons that playing in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai is good practice ahead of the two-Test series in New Zealand next month.
“It is good. I have always endorsed that I enjoy match practice more than just coming and bowling in the nets. The intensity is different. From that perspective I am hoping to get more and more games,” he said.
The left-armer also praised the efforts of Mumbai’s young pacer Shardul Thakur, who has taken 21 wickets in five matches so far.
“I am particularly impressed with Shardul Thakur. He has got the pace which is required at a higher level as well, so that is very promising. He is someone who we should invest in for the future. Hopefully, we will get some good performances out of him,” he said.
In the other quarter-finals, to be played from January 8 to 12, Karnataka take on Uttar Pradesh in Bangalore, Punjab play J&K in Vadodara, and Bengal clash with Railways in Kolkata.
Image: Zaheer Khan