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Ranji Trophy knockouts: Two heavyweights await as Jharkhand, Punjab, UP dream big

article_imageQUARTER-FINALS PREVIEW
Last updated on 05 Jun 2022 | 02:49 AM
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Ranji Trophy knockouts: Two heavyweights await as Jharkhand, Punjab, UP dream big

We look at how the quarter-finalists fared in the group stage and analyse their strengths and weaknesses

The Ranji Trophy 2021-22 is back after a break of almost three months, with the knockouts set to be played across Bangalore from Monday (June 6). The BCCI made a call to conduct the latest edition of the Ranji Trophy in two different phases because of Covid-19 and that also gave them ample time to organise an entire IPL season. The group phase was conducted in February-March and we are now left with only eight teams - Mumbai, Karnataka, Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh. Here, we look at how these teams fared in the group stage and analyse their strengths and weaknesses.

Quarter-Final 1 - Bengal vs Jharkhand

The availability of Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammed Shami was the biggest point of discussion ahead of Bengal’s quarter-final against Jharkhand, and neither of these two will feature in the all-important clash. Shami’s non-participation is completely a “workload management” thing but the relationship between Saha and the Cricket Association of Bengal has been a total mess. The out-of-favour wicketkeeper-batter missed the group stage due to “personal reasons” and was surprised to see his name in the squad for the knockouts. The 37-year-old had made it clear that he is “not willing to play” for Bengal and has asked for a no-objection certificate to continue his domestic career elsewhere.

To be honest, Bengal did pretty well in the first round without these two experienced campaigners. Amongst all the remaining eight teams, Abhimanyu Easwaran and his men were the only side to win all their three group-phase encounters. And, they have enough quality in their squad to topple Jharkhand. If you look at the top run-scorers and wicket-takers lists, there’s no one from Bengal in the top-15, but they have done well as a unit, defeating the likes of Hyderbad, Baroda, and Chandigarh. Their batting has blown hot and cold but Bengal have a formidable pace attack, comprising Mukesh Kumar, Ishan Porel, and Akash Deep. No other fast-bowling unit picked up more wickets than Bengal’s in the first round (48 wickets at an average of 19.8). Their average was the third-best after Hyderabad (18.4) and Rajasthan (19.5). 

However, Bengal will need their batting unit to come good in the knockouts. Easwaran was the only one who scored a hundred in the first round, while Jharkhand have six centurions. This is the first time they have made it through to the QFs since 2016-17. Saurabh Tiwary and Co. have had a weird season so far. They lost to Chhattisgarh in their first fixture and then defeated the heavyweights - Delhi and Tamil Nadu - by very close margins. 

Then came THAT pre-quarter-final in which Jharkhand annihilated Nagaland. They amassed 880 in their first innings - the tournament's fourth-highest score - and then later humiliated Nagaland in the second essay by extending the lead to 1008, the biggest in the history of first-class cricket. In Tiwary, Virat Singh, Kumar Kushagra, Kumar Suraj, and Nazim Siddiqui, Jharkhand have a solid batting line-up. They do have a couple of quality seamers, but unlike Bengal, Jharkhand will rely more on their two left-arm spinners - Shahbaz Nadeem and Anukul Roy.

Quarter-Final 2 - Mumbai vs Uttarakhand

Mumbai will be without Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube, and Ajinkya Rahane but you would still expect the 41-time champions to get the better of Uttarakhand. They will be led by dashing opener Prithvi Shaw, who is yet to set the stage on first this season. Despite Shaw not firing, Mumbai had the best average (46.7) among the eight quarter-finalists in the group stage, thanks to the likes of Sarfaraz Khan, Arman Jaffer, and Tanush Kotian. Sarfaraz, who has been dominating red-ball cricket for the last two editions, has slammed 551 runs in four innings at an average of 137.75. He is currently the third-highest run-getter in this tournament and the Mumbai team management would want him to carry forward his dream run.

His younger brother Musheer Khan, who was phenomenal in the Cooch Behar Trophy (670 runs in nine games - two centuries, five fifties), has also been included in the squad. Meanwhile, left-arm spinner Shams Mulani (29 wickets at 15.62) is currently the leading wicket-taker in the competition but hasn’t got much support from the rest of the bowling attack. Mumbai haven’t won the Ranji Trophy since 2015-16 and they can’t take Uttarakhand lightly. 

Among these eight teams, Uttarakhand have the worst batting average (26.9) this season but they have been superb in the bowling department. They had the best bowling average (19.2) amongst all teams in the group phase. Left-arm spinner Mayank Mishra (16 wickets at 10.37) has been stunning, while Dikshanshu Negi, Deepak Dhapola, and Swapnil Singh too are averaging way below 20. Uttarakhand skipper Jay Bista, who made his first-class debut for Mumbai, has also been solid up the order and would want to prove a point against his previous team. Mumbai are no more invincible but Uttarakhand will have to punch above their weight if they want to progress further. 

Quarter-Final 3 - Karnataka vs Uttar Pradesh

Karnataka will be slightly thin in the pace department in the absence of Prasidh Krishna. The tall paceman is set to travel to England and will miss the knockouts because of workload management. Ronit More has featured in 31 first-class games but V Koushik, Vyshak Vijaykumar, Vidwath Kaverappa and M Venkatesh have only played five red-ball games between them. 

The spin department - Shreyas Gopal, K Gowtham and J Suchith - looks more sorted but the onus will largely be on the star-studded batting line-up. Captain Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, Devdutt Padikkal, Mayank Agarwal, KV Siddharth and R Samarth could easily bat out any opposition. And, they will be up against a bowling attack that had the worst average (39.2) and strike rate (67.7) in the first round. 

Ankit Rajpoot (27.66) is the only Uttar Pradesh bowler with an average of below 35 in the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy. Left-arm seamers Mohsin Khan and Yash Dayal had pretty good IPL season with Lucknow Super Giants and Gujarat Titans respectively but the former wouldn't be a part of the quarter-finals.  

The bowlers might not have been at their best but Uttar Pradesh do have some quality young batters in their arsenal. Rinku Singh is averaging 100 in this edition, while Almas Shaukat, Priyam Garg, Akshdeep Nath, and Dhruv Jurel too have been consistent in this format. There is no denying that Karnataka will enter into this contest as the red-hot favourites but it would be a crime to count out Karan Sharma and his team.

Quarter-Final 4 - Punjab vs Madhya Pradesh

Punjab and Madhya Pradesh are two of the most exciting sides in domestic cricket. The latter’s road to the quarter-finals was slightly complicated. Madhya Pradesh and Kerala were tied at 13 points going into their final group-stage encounter and coincidentally they were playing each other. MP amassed 585/9 (decl) in their first innings, but due to constant rain interruptions, Kerala's first innings (432/9) remained incomplete and the former progressed further on the basis of a better quotient. 

Yash Dubey (422 runs at 140.66) and Shubham Sharma (317 runs at 105.66) were excellent in the first round, while Rajat Patidar and Kumar Kartikeya will be high on confidence after successful IPL stints. They have been very consistent as a bowling unit, with four of their bowlers - Anubhav Agarwal, Gaurav Yadav, Kartikeya and Ishwar Pandey - averaging 20 or below.

Meanwhile, Punjab will miss the services of their in-form seamer Arshdeep Singh (IND-SA T20Is) but they have a good blend of youth and experience. Mandeep Singh, Gurkeerat Singh and Siddarth Kaul have been around for a while, while Abhishek Sharma and Ramandeep Singh were quite impressive in the IPL. They also have Anmol Malhotra, Anmolpreet Singh and Prabhsimran Singh, making them a solid batting unit. Their batting looks sorted, at least on paper, but the same can’t be said about their bowling. Baltej Singh and Kaul are Punjab’s two premier seamers but the spin department looks slightly thinner. Mayank Markande is averaging 46.8 and will need as much support as he can get from Abhishek.  

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