Mumbai: A depleted Mumbai would look to seal a place in the quarter-finals with an outright victory when they take on Jharkhand in their four-day Group A Ranji Trophy league clash starting at the Wankhede Stadium here on Friday.
Even without the services of key batsmen Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, as well as bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan and the injured Dhawal Kulkarni along with the retired Sachin Tendulkar, the defending champions and table toppers are favourites against bottom-of-the-table Jharkhand.
Mumbai, who have recorded three outright wins in four games as well as a point split (1-1) against Delhi to log 19 from four games, are sitting pretty and it would need a herculean effort from the struggling Jharkhand players to pull off an upset, even over the first innings.
The thumping 338-run victory over minnows Vidarbha completed well inside the distance last week, was yet another shot-in-the arm for Mumbai in their race towards their 41st title triumph.
To fill the gaps left by the unavailability of some key bowlers, Mumbai have roped in 42-year-old legspinner Pravin Tambe for his maiden first-class game along with experienced medium pacer Kshemal Waingankar.
Mumbai would again rely on their superior batting to subdue the challenge from their eastern rivals with seasoned opener Wasim Jaffer (349 runs) and wicketkeeper Aditya Tare (406 runs) looking in very good touch.
The holders must be a bit concerned over the poor form of opener Kaustubh Pawar, who is struggling to get runs, and Suryakumar Yadav, who showed glimpses of regaining his touch in the second innings with an unbeaten 49 after throwing his wicket away in the first against Vidarbha.
Left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar is the top wicket-taker with 20 victims under his belt, but Mumbai would sorely miss the crafty bowling of captain Zaheer (16) and the extra pace of Kulkarni, who played in the season opener against Haryana before getting injured.
Shardul Thakur got among the wickets by grabbing seven with his medium pace bowling against Vidarbha, but overall the host team's bowling looks below par. Jharkhand, on the other hand, appear to be a better bowling side with Varun Aaron, back in action after a long injury-forced lay-off, leading the attack with 11 wickets.
They have a good left arm spinner in Captain rpt Captain Shahbaz Nadeem (9 wickets), same as medium pacer Shiv Shankar Rao.
But another medium pacer Rahul Sharma has not delivered and was replaced by Ajay Yadav who took 5-61 against Orissa.
Yadav did not figure in their previous drawn away game against Gujarat.
In batting, though Saurabh Tiwary has topped with 485 runs, he has not converted even one of his six fifties into a ton this season. Another senior batsman Ishank Jaggi has also under-performed.
Opener Rameez Nemat has batted steadily to amass 203 runs but there is hardly any depth or quality in the visitors' batting and the extra bounce that would be available to the bowlers on the Wankhede track could trouble the Jharkhand batsmen to an appreciable extent.