Mumbai: Friday night will be a virtual final of the inaugural Toyota University Cricket Championship. Probably the best two teams of the eight-team tournament will clash for a spot in Sunday's final as Western Wolves Mumbai University host Southern Champs Jain University, Bengaluru at the historic Brabourne Stadium.
When the big boys of University cricket play, it makes for some top drawer stuff and the contest between Mumbai and Bengaluru will indeed see the best batsmen, bowlers and fielders of the TUCC in action. Jain University are the defending all-India Rohinton Baria champions. In Manipal in January, the Jain boys shut out fancied Mumbai by 82 runs to become the best team among Indian universities. Mumbai will be hurt after that defeat.
With pride at stake, Bengaluru will aim for an encore and with the kind of form they are in TUCC, Mumbai will be wary. The only advantage Mumbai will have will be their home support but Bengaluru have the experience and guile to shut out the external factors and focus on a game that should see them produce their best.
While both semifinalists have quality cricketers, many of them representing their states of Karnataka and Mumbai at various age-group levels, all eyes will be on Jain's inspirational skipper Kaunain Abbas and Mumbai's precocious Kevin D'Almeida. Both Abbas and D'Almeida have struck centuries for their respective teams and remain two of highest run-getters of the championship. Abbas, of course, leads the charts with 246 runs from three games while the left-handed opener D'Almeida has accumulated 188 from as many games.
If T20 cricket is all about batsmen, then Mumbai have an advantage. While Abbas remains Bengaluru's only batsman in the top 10 of the TUCC, Mumbai have Shashank Singh (108, avg. 36) and stand-in skipper Pankaj Jaiswal (106, avg. 53) among the toppers. Singh has been extremely impressive, his 37-ball 60 against APS University, Rewa on Wednesday night standing out as Mumbai raced to a record 224 for 4 in their last group B match at the Brabourne Stadium.
Conditions at Brabourne will suit batsmen from both teams. The hard and true deck will be good for scoring runs and thus the discipline in bowling and the focus on fielding will separate the grain from the chaff. Mumbai have the experience in bowling with the experienced Shardul Thakur, Saurabh Netravalkar and Prateek Dabholkar probing the best of batsmen with the new ball. Bengaluru will depend on three slow bowlers Shreyas Gopal, Shashindra and Samarth Ravikumar to contain the marauding Mumbaikars. So from a man-to-man perspective, both teams are equally matched.
Mumbai have the momentum going into Friday's semifinal. In the last four days, they beat Madras in a last-ball thriller and then brushed aside Rewa by 151 runs for the biggest win (by runs) of the tournament. D'Almeida played big roles in both wins and wants to be third time lucky. Jain University will be on show after a long break, having played their last match on February 28. But for both teams, it will be a new day and the team that holds its nerves and play to its potential will triumph.