If you had to pick two teams who you thought might be contesting the Ranji Trophy finals even five years ago, Vidarbha and Saurashtra wouldn't have topped most people's lists, and not just because they appear near the bottom when the teams are stacked alphabetically.
Yet here they are. Both were in Group A, both topped the combined Groups A & B table with 29 points each. They had identical records, three wins and five draws. They arrived at the knockout stages like identical twins, but their paths to the final have diverged there. Vidarbha have sailed through, beating Uttarakhand and Kerala by an innings. Saurashtra fell behind in their quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh and then mounted a record chase. Then they fell behind against Karnataka and mounted another fourth-innings chase. There was no numerical record there, though it could have been the first time Cheteshwar Pujara was booed at and heckled in a stadium in India while hitting a match-winning century.
Due to the nature of their paths though, both teams have arrived at the final full of confidence, and both have the knowledge that their batting and bowling are in good working order.
The other similarities between the two are their structures. Both have a top order that's in form and pedigreed. Both have left-arm spin-bowling allrounders as their fulcrum. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja has 52 wickets and a batting average of 21.54, Aditya Sarwate has 44 wickets and a batting average of 30.50. Vidarbha might claim slightly superior bowling firepower because they have Umesh Yadav, but Saurashtra will point to Pujara as evidence of greater batting might.
They even played each other in the last league match before the knockouts, in which Saurashtra took the first-innings lead in a draw that had only 21 wickets falling in four days.
Rarely do you get a final that checks every box - the best teams in the competition, top stars available, and evenly matched.
Vidarbha WWDWD (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
While the spotlight for Saurashtra will be firmly trained on Pujara, their leading run-getter this season has been Sheldon Jackson. He has 838 from 10 games at an average of 52.37 and just like Pujara, he too scored an unbeaten half-century and a century in their two fourth-innings chases. Jackson has been a quiet performer for Saurashtra over several years, but another good outing in the final may just be the fuel he needs to get more opportunities at higher levels.
A similar situation exists in the Vidarbha camp. The presence of Umesh Yadav will mean all eyes are on him, especially considering his devastating form. Wasim Jaffer's second 1000-plus season means he'll grab some attention as well but Vidarbha have also had captain Faiz Fazal to thank for their batting firepower. It was Fazal's 75 on a spicy pitch in the semi-final that prevented Vidarbha from collapsing like Kerala had, and he's almost unnoticeably gone to second-place on his team's highest run-scorers' list.
Saurashtra would want to keep a winning combination intact and the only change they could contemplate is dropping Arpit Vasavada, who showed a weakness against the short ball in the semi-final against Karnataka given Vidarbha have Umesh.
Saurashtra (possible): 1 Harvik Desai, 2 Snell Patel (wk), 3 Vishwaraj Jadeja, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Sheldon Jackson, 6 Arpit Vasavada, 7 Prerak Mankad, 8 Kamlesh Makvana, 9 Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, 10 Jaydev Unadkat (capt), 11 Chetan Sakariya.
Vidarbha will definitely be making at least one change, having picked a side that was tailor-made for a seam-friendly wicket against Kerala. Offspinner Akshay Wakhare is set to return to the XI, most likely at the expense of the young Yash Thakur. The 19-year-old showed promise in the semi-final with 4 for 28 in the second innings, but Vidarbha will need their best spin options for this game, and they have the pace front covered with Umesh and Rajneesh Gurbani.
Vidarbha (possible): 1 Faiz Fazal (capt), 2 Sanjay Raghunath, 3 Wasim Jaffer, 4 Atharwa Taide, 5 Ganesh Satish, 6 Akshay Wadkar (wk), 7 Aditya Sarwate, 8 Mohit Kale, 9 Akshay Wakhare, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Rajneesh Gurbani
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is expected to be a slow and low turner, which will last the full duration of the match, as has been the norm at the VCA Stadium in recent times.
Stats and trivia
5 - the number of teams who have won back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles in all its history. They are Bombay/Mumbai, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Rajasthan. Vidarbha will attempt to become the sixth team in that list.
52 - the number of wickets taken by Dharmendrasinh Jadeja this season, the highest of any bowler not from the Plate Group. Only Ashutosh Aman (68) and Gurinder Singh (53) are ahead of him.