Mumbai: 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.Zol and other top batsmen of trhe visiting team will have to negotiate well Zaheer, his pace partners Shardul Thakur (21 wickets), Javed Khan (22) and the two left handed slow bowlers to give their side a chance.
Mumbai's batting has not looked as formidable this season with the exception of the seasoned Wasim Jaffer and wicket-keeper Aditya Tare.
The absence of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, who are now part of India's ODI and Test teams, has hit the batting strength hard.
Nayar, who has the knack of getting breakthroughs with his slow medium bowling, has not fired at all this season with the bat and also got injured which forced him to miss the team's last few important games.
Suryakumar Yadav has played poor shots and got out which had put extra pressure on the other batsmen. The absence of the steady Hiken Shah, who has split the webbing on his hand, and Siddesh Lad has weakened Mumbai's batting which the Maharashtra bowlers would look to exploit.
The visitors have a decent pace attack spearheaded by Shrikant Munde and are dependent also on the left-arm spin of Akshay Darekar, who will enjoy the bounce offered by the track.
"You cannot underestimate any team that makes it to the quarterfinal. Knowing their history in first class cricket, you have to be at your best," said Maharashtra coach Surendra Bhave when asked about Mumbai.
"I am confident I have got a young side that can perform anywhere in India on any track," said the coach confidently.
Rival teams (from):
Maharashtra: Rohit Motwani (C and wk), Harshad Khadiwale, Chirag Khurana, Kedar Jadhav, Sangram Atitkar, Ankit Bawne, Anupam Sanklecha, Akshay Darekar, Pushkaraj Chavan, Samad Fallah, Shrikant Mundhe, Domnic Joseph Muthuswamy, Vijay Zol, Jay Pande, Shamsuzama Kazi.
Mumbai: Zaheer Khan (capt), Wasim Jaffer, Abhishek Nayar, Aditya Tare (wk), Kaustubh Pawar, Suryakumar Yadav, Vishal Dabholkar, Javed Khan, Shardul Thakur, Iqbal Abdulla, Sagar Kerkar, Vinit Indulkar, Nikhil Patil (Jr), Sarvesh Damle, Saurabh Netravalkar.
Karnataka looks to continue winning streak
Karnataka looks to continue winning streak
Bangalore: Riding high on their five consecutive victories, Karnataka will be looking to continue their winning streak when they take on Uttar Pradesh in the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy at Chinnaswamy Stadium here tomorrow.
Karnataka have been on a roll as never before, as they scripted five outright victories in a row this season in the league stage. The most unforgettable one was against traditional rivals Mumbai, whom they beat by 160-run margin.
The host captain Vinay Kumar would undoubtedly be hoping to take full advantage of playing in home conditions and give a hard time to the visitors, who have senior pros in their ranks like India discards -- Mohammad Kaif, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar and RP Singh.
Vinay might be disappointed with the absence of in-form all-rounder Stuart Binny due to his inclusion in India's ODI squad for New Zealand tour, but must be relieved to have Robin Uthappa back in the side, having recovered from hamstring injury.
The swashbuckling Uthappa will replace Mayank Agarwal, who has been in good form. The Karnataka opener will be missing the quarterfinals as he is being named in Karnataka's U-25 squad for the CK Nayudu Trophy quarterfinal against Himachal Pradesh in Dharamsala from January 5.
Left-arm spinner KP Appanna will return to the squad after he was rested in the previous match against Delhi, which Karnataka won by eight wickets to finish the league stage with five consecutive victories.
Karnataka have a formidable batting line-up.
Almost all the top order batsmen have put their hands up when others had failed to make any impression. Lokesh Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ganesh Satish and CM Gautam, all of them have been among runs. Especially, Rahul has been the real force behind the home side's batting with 777 runs under his belt after cracking two centuries and three half centuries.
Karun Nair, who blasted a ton on debut, 105 against Delhi in the last match, could give match-less Uthappa a much needed confidence at the other end. Form of Pandey, Satish and Gautam, in the middle order will not be a cause of concern for Vinay ahead of the match.Among the bowlers, pacers Vinay, Abhimanyu Mithun and HS Sharath have been among wickets so far and would like to continue the good work.
Right-arm medium pacer Ronit More would also come into the match with his tails up with seven-wicket and four-wicket hauls against Haryana and Delhi, respectively. Appanna also have been among wickets.
UP also face the same liabilities as hosts as they will miss the services of their captain Suresh Raina and leggie Amit Mishra, for they are the part of India's ODI squad for NZ tour.
UP, who were placed second in Group B with two outright victories in the league stage, will hope to play with a positive frame of mind, especially having under performed in the tournament so far.
The visitors started the season by beating Baroda and then thumping Services by an innings and 14 runs.
Prashant Gupta, wicketkeeper-batsman Ekalavya Dwivedi and Parvinder Singh, have been among runs, but in bits and pieces. This may, however, propel them to give more to make UP proud by collectively putting up a good score.
A tall left-handed UP opening batsman Tanmay Srivastava, who had turned quite a few heads with his competent batting in U-19 cricket, would hope to continue the form, which he showed against Railways by cracking 103.
R P Singh and Imtiyaz Ahmed will lead the pace attack, while Piyus
h Chawla, Pravin Gupta and Ali Murtaza are the three spinners.
Karnataka: R Vinay Kumar (capt), CM Gautam (wk), Robin Uthappa, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, R Samarth, Karun Nair, Ronit More, Shreyas Gopal, Abhimanyu Mithun, HS Sharath, Ganesh Satish, Amit Verma, Abrar Kazi, KP Appanna.Uttar Pradesh: Mohd Kaif, RP Singh, Piyush Chawla, Tanmay Srivastav, Mukul Dagar, Parvinder Singh, Arish Alam, Eklavya Dwivedi, Pravin Gupta, Ali Murtuza, Imtiaz Ahmed, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Umang Sharma.
Confident Bengal face Railways hurdle
Confident Bengal face Railways hurdle
Kolkata: High on confidence after recording back-to-back wins, hosts Bengal would look to derail the Railways team when they clash in Ranji quarterfinals here from tomorrow, weeks after an ugly 'Mankaded' incident marred an earlier rubber between the two teams.
After being written off in the league stage, two-time champions Bengal brilliantly turned it around by thrashing Uttar Pradesh (home) and Tamil Nadu (away) to storm into the quarters for the first time since 2008-09 when they were ousted by TN.
For Bengal, a team that could not go beyond the group stage in last four seasons, the excitement is in an all time high as the CAB too has gone all out creating a hype around Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Co.
From gathering 10 former Bengal captains who gifted Shukla an autographed bat to distributing complimentary tickets, the CAB is leaving no stone unturned.
It will be interesting to see how Bengal soak up the pressure against an under-rated Railways who have been a picture of consistency since 2007-08 when they finished runners-up in the Plate League to get a promotion.
Railways made a semifinal exit going down to Mumbai last season, while in 2010-11 they lost in the quarters to Baroda.
Bengal might have peaked at the fag end of the league stage, but the Railmen were steady with three wins including one by a bonus point against Baroda to top the group B.
There has been an intense rivalry between the two teams this season after Railway skipper Murali Kartik 'Mankaded' Sandipan Das and Bengal players refused the customary handshake after conceding three points in hot-tempered match in New Delhi.
Both the teams today termed it "history" as all eyes would be on the rival teams and their on the field behaviour.
Bengal have everything in their favour beginning with the return of Wriddhiman Saha, who was with India's South Africa tour as a reserve wicketkeeper.
Opener Arindam Das too will return at the top after recovering from a back injury to lend stability to the batting.
In absence of Manoj Tiwary, skipper Shukla is leading from the front with 491 runs from seven matches, while youngsters Writtick Chatterjee and Abhimanyu Easwaran too have impressed.
It will be the same wicket on which Bengal had mauled Uttar Pradesh by eight wickets inside three days as Ashok Dinda and co will look to exploit the green top.
In fact, it will be the Railways pace duo of Anureet Singh and Ranjit Mali -- with 58 wickets between them -- who will be more tempted to utilise the conditions.
Another high point for the Railmen has been the batting consistency by the experienced wicketkeeper batsman Mahesh Rawat and former Bengal batsman Arindam Ghosh.
Railways might be struggling with the opening combination having tried six batsmen with Shivakant Shukla, but it's the duo's solid presence at No 5 and 6 that has overcame many hurdles.
While Rawat has totalled 687 runs from eight matches at a healthy 68.70 average, Ghosh's aggregate has been 602 from eight matches including his highest 208 not out against Baroda.
Fresh from his 181 against UP, Ghosh will feel at 'home' and these two will be Bengal's main hurdles in their pursuit for their first Ranji title in 24 years.
Laxmi Ratan Shukla (c), Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Arindam Das, Sudip Chatterjee, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Subhomoy Das, Arnab Nandi, Sourav Sarkar, Saurasish Lahiri, Shib Shankar Paul, Ashoke Dinda, Kaushik Ghosh, Iresh Saxena, Sourav Mondal, Writtick Chatterjee and Gitimoy Basu.
Railways: Murali Kartik (c), Mahesh Rawat (wk), Harshad Rawle, Shivakant Shukla, Nitin Bhille, Rongsen Jonathan, Arindam Ghosh, Ashis Yadav, Karn Sharma, Anureet Singh, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Hardik Rathod, Ranjit Mali, Amit Paunikar, Shailendra Gehlot.
Umpires: Suresh Shastri, Paschim Pathak; Match Referee: Rajendra Jadeja.
Upbeat Jammu and Kashmir ready for stern Punjab test
Upbeat Jammu and Kashmir ready for stern Punjab test
Vadodara: Having proved their mettle at the group league stage, a determined Jammu and Kashmir is ready to lock horns with formidable Punjab team that consists of senior players like Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh in their maiden Ranji Trophy quarter-final appearance here tomorrow.
On paper, it might be a 'David vs Goliath' contest but Punjab captain Harbhajan Singh knows well that it would be foolish to take Perveez Rasool and Co. lightly as Rajasthan had showed during the 2010-11 season when they emerged from the 'Plate Group' to win Ranji Trophy defeating Mumbai and Tamil Nadu in the quarter and semi-finals.
"The boys are eagerly waiting for a good contest. We want to play more matches like these where we would be meeting teams like Punjab and Mumbai. This will also be an indicator of our improvement. It will be an honour to play against a player of Yuvi Paaji's stature," Jammu and Kashmir skipper Rasool said.
Harbhajan, who was out of action play after the first three matches due to shoulder injury, is set to play in the quarter-final at the Moti Baug ground which has helped both pacers and spinners during the course of the season.
Harbhajan, who has taken 18 wickets in three games, will like to get back into the groove while Yuvraj, who has scored 140 runs from three games without a single 50 will be itching to get a big score.
"I am fully fit and looking forward for some action," said Harbhajan.
For Jammu and Kashmir, a lot will depend on how their skipper and premier player Rasool performs in the crunch game.
The all-rounder, who has already been a part of the Indian squad and has played for India A, has scored 550 runs and has taken 21 wickets in the tournament so far.
Rasool has been complemented well by opener Adil Rishi, who has been the top scorer for J&K so far with 571 runs. The team is also dependant on their new-ball attack of left-arm pacer Samiullah Beigh and right-arm paceman Mohammed Mudhasir.
While Beigh has salped 33 wickets, Mudhasir isn't far behind having bagged 30 wickets.
The pitch at Moti Baug ground is expected to help the seam bowlers, according to Rasool.
"They have kept a good layer of grass and I am expecting that there will be good carry throughout the match. As of now it looks like a pacer-friendly wicket. The seamers will certainly get good help from the track if they pitch it in right areas. We will decide on our XI tomorrow after having a final look at the track before the toss," Rasool said.
For Punjab, their batting has been dependant on opener Jiwanjot Singh, who struck a brilliant 147 against a formidable Delhi pace attack on a green-top at Roshanara. Along with stand-in captain Mandeep Singh (492 runs) and pacer Sandeep Sharma, who has taken 30 wickets. They also have fast bowler VRV Singh and seamer Jaskaran Singh to help Sandeep. With Harbhajan's return, leggie Rahul Sharma or left-arm spinner Rajwinder Singh might have to sit out.