In this business end of the Ranji Trophy 2017-18, the spotlight is on the two most successful teams in the tournament’s history: Mumbai and Karnataka.
Mumbai, the 41-time champions, face Karnataka, the eight-time title-winners from Thursday (December 7) at the VCA Stadium (Jamtha) in Nagpur. The contest will draw attention not only for the depth of talent in both sides, but also because it is the only televised game in the last-eight stage.
Meanwhile, six other teams have gone under the radar, including Gujarat, the defending champions. Parthiv Patel’s men have looked far more impressive this season than they did in their run to the crown in 2016-17. This time, they won five out of six league games to top Group B, while also having most points among all teams overall, with 34. Last year, they won two out of eight and finished second behind Mumbai in the league phase.
Surely, this spike in Gujarat’s performance will play on Bengal’s mind when they face off in Jaipur. Bengal have been workhorses in their progress in Group C, and have largely benefited from the efforts of Ashok Dinda and Mohammed Shami. National duty has kept Bengal from going to Shami, but with Dinda pocketing 30 wickets and spearheading the pace unit, Manoj Tiwary’s job of marshalling the troops has become easier.
Also coming out of Group C are Vidarbha, finishing on top with 31 points. With a host of star batsmen in the ranks, Vidarbha notched up four wins en route to the quarterfinals. Their bowling lacks sting, with Akshay Wakhare being the only standout, but they would back themselves against Kerala at the Lalabhai Contractor stadium in Surat.
Kerala’s route to the knockouts has been straightforward, and they have Jalaj Saxena to thank for that. The allrounder has picked up 38 wickets — most on the overall list — and has added 482 runs at 60.25. With Sanju Samson too clicking, Kerala have managed as a batting unit, but it’s their bowling department that will concern Vidarbha. Sijomon Joseph, the debutant, has finished the league stage with 19 wickets from four games, and KC Akshay, the other left-arm spinner, has scalped 13.
Also in the mix are Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, who lock horns in Mulapadu. Delhi, who finished second in Group A behind Karnataka with 27 points, will fancy themselves against a relative unknown set of Madhya Pradesh players. However, they will guard against complacency given Madhya Pradesh’s efficiency.
While Harpreet Singh and Rajat Patidar have shouldered a bulk of batting responsibilities, Mihir Hirwani and Ishwar Pandey have led the bowling unit. Devendra Bundela’s men don’t possess the star cast that studs Delhi’s roster, but they are industrious and could just come up with a surprise.
Back to the battle of the arch-rivals, Karnataka have the upper hand based on the form of their players and their non-dramatic run-up to this stage. Mayank Agarwal is in the prime of his powers, scoring 1064 runs in ten innings, and R Samarth has aided him well at the top to make it the most successful opening pair this season.
Not having KL Rahul and Manish Pandey (India commitments) comes as a bit of a dampener, but Karnataka won’t be too bogged down. The batsmen have put up the runs every time it was demanded of them and the bowlers — R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, K Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal — have been exceptional.
Mumbai haven’t had their customary cosy route to the knockouts. Instead, it all came down to their final league match, where they beat Tripura by ten wickets to pick up a bonus point and qualify. They won’t be happy with how they’ve fared so far, but Prithvi Shaw’s evolution into one of the most destructive batsmen in domestic cricket at the moment is something to cheer about. Moreover, Mumbai know exactly when to up the ante. Karnataka will be aware of this fact and weary of it, but also have reason to be confident.
Quarterfinal line-up (December 7 to December 11):
Gujarat v Bengal in Jaipur, Sawai Mansingh stadium.
Delhi v Madhya Pradesh, Mulapadu, ACA Cricket ground.
Kerala v Vidarbha, Surat, Lalabhai Contractor Stadium.
Mumbai v Karnataka, Nagpur, VCA Stadium (Jamtha).