As hard as it was to see Mumbai not even qualifying for the knock-out stage last season, it was made a lot worse by the sight of Delhi winning the trophy, although, in all fairness, they deserved to win it. If the team really is hurting as much as the news reports suggested they were, expect a strong performance this season.
This season, Mumbai have been drawn into the group of eight, and the game against Delhi should be the highlight of the season. None of the teams in the group look like walkovers, though the games against Orissa and Gujarat should be relatively easy.
On the face of it, the squad does not inspire a lot of confidence. But the probables for this season have been chosen along the lines of the youth policy of the Vengsarkar selection committee. Last season, Mumbai squandered points in games where they should not have, and almost lost a game they should have won comfortably. All said, it was a below par performance from the team. However, with the youngsters in the team gaining first class experience, one would hope that they will put in a much better performance this time around.
There have already been a few controversial selection decisions. The most suprising of these has been the choice of captain - Wasim Jaffer ahead of Amol Muzumdar. Sairaj Bahutule comes back to the squad after briefly defecting over to Maharashtra, while Nilesh Kulkarni, though included in the list of probables, has been omitted from the squad to play Rajasthan.
1) With Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag forming a great opening partnership for India, Wasim Jaffer should be available for most of this season. His performances at the domestic level have been good, and should continue to remain so.
2) The youngsters in the team have shown great potential, and should convert them into improved performances this season. Sahil Kukreja, Ajinkya Rahane and Hiken Shah have shown what they are capable of in the past seasons. Dhaval Kulkarni, while inexperienced, showed his composure during the IPL, though it remains to be seen whether he can sustain the same level of performance in the Ranji Trophy. The form of these players will make or break Mumbai's season.
3) Ajit Agarkar may have been a bit of a joke when playing for India, but he has had his moments with the ball. Moreover, he has always been a consistent performer at the domestic level, and he should be Mumbai's leading bowler.
4) Abhishek Nayar's all round abilities, and especially his ability to score quick runs even in difficult circumstances lends vital balance to the team. Expect a very good season from him.
1) The bowling attack is inexperienced. Apart from Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar and Sairaj Bahutule, none of the others have any significant experience bowling at this level, while Nilesh Kulkarni finds himself strangely sidelined. The return of Swapnil Hazare and Avishkar Salvi from injuries (whenever that happens) will significantly boost the team.
2) The sacking of Muzumdar as captain might affect the team spirit. However, this is an issue that should be easily resolved.
3) Lack of squad depth. There are no significant replacements in case of further injuries. Siddharth Chitnis might be able to perform as a back-up batsman, but Rohan Raje (right arm medium pace) and Ankeet Chavan (left arm spin) do not inspire any sort of confidence. To be fair, Nilesh Kulkarni and Iqbal Abdullah should be able to step in quite well, though neither of them made the cut for the squad against Rajasthan.
Season prediction: As always, Mumbai will be aiming to win the title. Realistically though, I see a semi-final finish, which, while an improvement over last season, is probably not good enough. However, the team is in transition, and is more likely to win the Ranji Trophy next season. A much better picture will be obtained after the game against Rajasthan.