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Ranji Trophy: Some tantalising match-ups in the KO rounds

Mumbai hasn’t put a foot wrong in the league stage but their first five-day game of the season could test them in a different way

Saurashtra, Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh will look to build on their recent successes in the Ranji Trophy tournament as the knock-round begins on Friday.

Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot during the third day of the Ranji Trophy cricket match between Saurashtra and Vidarbha(PTI)

In a mouth-watering clash, Saurashtra will run into the strong Tamil Nadu while Vidarbha have a tough game lined up against Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh take on Andhra. In the fourth quarter-final, Baroda will face the most formidable challenge of playing 41-time champions Mumbai at their homeground.

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Playing the knock-out games is a different kind of pressure altogether, and the team which handles it better will have the advantage. Mumbai hasn’t put a foot wrong in the league stage, running away to five outright victories, but their real mettle will be tested in their first five-day game of the season.

On paper the Ajinkya Rahane-led side looks very strong but has concerns over their batting. Their results have been built on their bowling. The injury to Shivam Dube in the last match has left a big hole in the batting. It puts the onus on their openers Prithvi Shaw and Bhupen Lalwani to shoulder extra responsibility. Both are in good form.

Shaw has made a strong return after injury with 269 runs in four innings. Lalwani has been the most consistent batter with 493 runs (one century, five fifties). In bowling, Mumbai has the clear edge with a well-balanced attack, comprising of pacers Shardul Thakur, Tushar Deshpande, Mohit Awasthi backed by ace spinner Shams Mulani. With India Under-19 all-rounder Musheer Khan picked in the side, captain Rahane has a tough choice to pick his bowling combination.

“It’s a good headache to have when you have to choose from such a variety of options. The bowlers did well even in the last season, picking 20 wickets almost every game. It’s a massive thing and that’s how you think of winning matches and championships.

Coached by Gujarat veteran Mukund Parmar, Baroda has done well to qualify for the quarter-final with a young side. Their batting this season has been built around contributions from Shashwat Rawat, Jyotsnil Singh and Shivalik Sharma. Spinners, veteran left-armer Bhargav Bhatt, and off-spinner Mahesh Pithiya, known for his R Ashwin bowling action, have led the bowling attack with a combined tally of 52 wickets.

Tamil Nadu vs Saurashtra

The Cheteshwar Pujara factor looms large on the Tamil Nadu versus Saurashtra game. The veteran has found his best form to pile up 780 runs at an average of 78.1. If he gets in, no attack is good enough to move him. Filled with experienced hands on both sides, it is expected to be a cracker of a game. Skipper Arpit Vasavada, 440 runs, is another big game player. Prerak Mankad is also among the runs with 426. Their bowling is led by veteran spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, 39 wickets, with good support from off-spinner Yuvraj Dodhia and Parth Buth.

Tamil Nadu has an equally strong batting line-up. Narayan Jagadeesan (775 runs), Baba Indrajith (606) and P Ranjan Paul (436) are the leading run-getters. Spinners R Sai Kishore (38 wickets) and S Ajith Ram (36) provide them the edge in bowling.

Vidarbha versus Karnataka

Playing as a professional for Vidarbha, Karun Nair will be going up against his home state side, Karnataka at the VCA ground, Nagpur. Nair has hit form at the right time with two hundreds in his last three games.

The two sides have played some closely-fought games in recent times in the Raji Trophy, meeting for four seasons in a row from 2015-16 to 2018-19, the highlight being their fiercely contest semifinal in 2017-18 which Vidarbha won by five runs.

Out of four games, they have one outright each and Karnataka has won on the first innings lead two times. Karnataka have a formidable batting line-up with experienced hands Mayank Agarwal and Manish Pandey among the runs.

Both sides have good pacers. Vidarbha will bank on their pace bowling attack led by Aditya Thakare (30 wickets) and international Umesh Yadav (22 wickets in four games) while Karnataka have V Koushik (27) and V Vyshak (34). Hosts Vidarbha are the only team apart from Mumbai to have recorded five wins in the league stage.

Madhya Pradesh versus Andhra

The Chandrakant Pandit-coached Madhya Pradesh will look to cash on the home advantage in their game against Andhra at the Holkar Stadium in Indore.

It is expected to be a contest between the teamwork of MP versus the individual brilliance of the Andhra batters. After taking over captaincy, Ricky Bhui has been in a rich vein of form, being the highest run-getter in the league with 861 runs.

With Hanuma Vihari (453) also contributing crucial runs, Andhra look solid in the battig department. MP is a typical Pandit-coached side – working as a team with consistent contributions from a number of batters, with six of them getting 300 plus runs. MP, the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy winners, have gone unbeaten in the league stage.


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