Rahane wants Mumbai to be ‘courageous’ in their quest for Ranji glory

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After eight seasons without a Ranji Trophy title, Mumbai captain Ajinkya Rahane wants his side to be courageous. Courageous to take 20 wickets, courageous to take risks, courageous to show intent, and all this to culminate in outright wins in the space of four days.
Mumbai have done that so far by grabbing bonus-point wins in the first two rounds of the new Ranji season. First, they handed Bihar an innings defeat by bowling them out for exactly 100 in both innings, and then thrashed Andhra by 10 wickets at home. In both games, Mumbai made a strong statement by making the opposition follow on, which is not usually the norm in red-ball cricket these days.
Mumbai have almost mirrored their start from last season when they started with a nine-wicket win and an innings win, but their campaign went wonky after that, and they failed to make the knockouts. The key this time will be to remain consistent.

“It’s been a very good start for us this season,” Rahane said in Mumbai after their win against Andhra. “The challenge is to be consistent because when you want to win the Ranji Trophy, it is all about being consistent throughout the period of time. We are looking to take one game at a time. [It’s a] home-away format so the conditions keep changing, so we have to be in the moment, try and see how the wicket will be in Kerala [for the next game] and play to the conditions.”

Mumbai can be proud that while they have lost both their tosses so far, their bowlers have stepped up to allow only one opposition batter to reach the 50 mark in four innings. It was the fast bowlers who came together in Patna against Bihar, and then the left-arm spinner Shams Mulani, the second-highest wicket-taker in the last Ranji season, who picked up a 10-wicket match haul against Andhra.
Mulani has been Mumbai’s frontline spinner for a few seasons now, having taken 45 wickets in the 2021-22 Ranji season and another 46 last time which earned him call-ups for the Duleep Trophy and the Irani Cups over the last couple of years. As was the case against Andhra, Mulani often comes on as first-change and makes life tough for right-hand batters from around the wicket by either targeting the stumps or sticking the off-stump line when there is grip in the surface.

Mulani worked hard on his fitness before this season so that he could take the load of bowling in all three formats for Mumbai, whom he also led against Bihar when Rahane was out with a stiff neck. His team-mate Shreyas Iyer believes it’s “high time” Mulani is “elevated to the next level”.

“I have changed the recovery process because when you play all three formats, and especially for Mumbai, you have to go out there every day and give your heart out,” Mulani had said after the second day’s play. “And it takes a toll on your body. The recovery process and… you have to be a bit professional and [monitor] the sleeping timings and go to the gym, keep working on the shoulder and the back so that it doesn’t break down somewhere. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on, which is why the last two years were great for me personally, but if I want to continue that in the coming years, I need to keep my body up to the mark.”

Rahane will be 36 this year, and he wants to impart all the courage he can as a senior player to Mumbai’s younger crop. In his own words, it could mean creating chances as a bowler, taking the first-innings lead if an outright win is not possible, or showing intent as a batter.

“It’s not about being safe,” Rahane explained. “You have to be courageous. It’s a long tournament, and you win matches only when your bowlers take wickets. So you first aim is to take the innings lead, then think about how much time you have at your disposal because in four days very few matches produce outright results. If you play on an absolutely paata (flat) wicket, the outright result is very difficult. So, first-innings lead, and with time on hand, we decide to go for an outright win. Personally, I feel we shouldn’t play on a flat deck.

“It [courageous] doesn’t mean you go out there and slog. It’s all about taking that extra risk or maybe playing with intent. Thinking about your own performance, you go into your shell. But when you put your team first, play your game, there is no fear of failure… that should be the attitude.”

The initial two wins for Mumbai have come in the absence of a number of regulars: Sarfaraz Khan and Tushar Deshpande have been away to play against England Lions, Shivam Dube and Yashasvi Jaiswal are part of the India squad for the T20Is against Afghanistan, and Shardul Thakur and Prithvi Shaw are injured.

For the next game, against Kerala, they will have only Dube back but will lose Iyer, who had returned to the Ranji circuit after five years. Whatever the changes in personnel and the challenges of conditions in Kerala, Rahane will expect one thing from his players: to be courageous.

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