Group toppers Maharashtra will play defending champions Mumbai, who barely made it to the knock-out stage, in the five-day quater-final of the Ranji Trophy that promises to be a keen fight at the Wankhede Stadium, starting here tomorrow.
While Maharashtra advanced to the elimination phase by finishing on top of Group C, 40-time champions Mumbai staged a grand comeback from the brink in Group A after conceding a 99-run first innings lead to Gujarat in their final league game before winning outright to qualify for the quarter-final.
All these facts would be confined to the dustbin when the two arch-rivals meet in what is considered to be the Maharashtra state version of the well-known 'War of Roses' between Lancashire and Yorkshire in English county cricket.
Though the visitors from across the Sahyadri ranges topped their group that consisted of the championship's weakest teams, they would find Mumbai - bolstered by the return of veteran pacer Zaheer Khan and all-rounder Abhishek Nayar - a tough nut to crack in the latter's backyard.
Zaheer, who will lead the hosts, is available for this game after missing a few earlier when he was with the Indian team in South Africa and his mere presence would lift the Mumbai bowling attack on a track that generally has bounce and assists pacers for the first couple of days.
Maharashtra's leading batsmen - opener Harshad Khadiwale, Kedar Jadhav, Ankit Bawne, captain and wicket keeper Rohit Motwane and India's under-19 Asia cup-winning skipper Vijay Zol - would have their hands full against the home side attack that has been lifted by the selection of experienced left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla.
It was Abdulla's 11-wicket (6 for 42 and 5 for 44) haul that dashed Gujarat's hopes at Valsad. He will have support from Mumbai's top wicket taker of the season, Vishal Dabholkar (38 wickets), who also bowls slow left-arm orthodox stuff.
The welcome news for Maharashtra is that Zol, who cracked a hundred earlier in the season and a match-winning hundred against Pakistan in the Asia Cup final at Sharjah last week, has recovered from his groin niggle and is fit to play.