2017-18 Ranji Trophy Quarterfinals Preview: Karnataka and Mumbai face-off, Kerala set for historic appearance
Following six action-packed rounds of group stage cricket matches in the 2017/18 season of the Ranji Trophy, the stage is set for the big quarterfinals which will see the top two teams from each of the four groups battling it out for a stake in the semifinals.
While Karnataka and Delhi remained unbeaten in the round-robin stages to qualify from group A, defending champions Gujarat and first-time entrants Kerala, led by Sachin Baby qualified from Group B.
41-time champion Mumbai and Maharashtra sealed a spot in the quarters with wins from their final games in the group stages while Vidharbha and Bengal completed the list of eight qualified teams by qualifying from Group A.
Here is an overview of the fixtures lined up for the big quarterfinals scheduled to take place between the 7th and 11th of December.
Karnataka vs Mumbai at VCA Stadium in Nagpur
Undoubtedly the biggest clash of the quarterfinals, the battle between Mumbai and Karnataka is sure to give rise to some intense firework owing to the firepower of both teams.
While Mayank Agarwal has single-handedly led Karnataka's surge to the quarters with 1064 runs from the ten games he has played including a triple century and is in line to shatter some long-standing records, his opening partner Ravikumar Samarth and Indian international Manish Pandey have lent an able hand
For Mumbai, all eyes will be on Dhawal Kulkarni, Akash Parkar and Vijay Gohil, who have impressed with their craftiness with the ball in hand. On the batting front, Sidhesh Lad has led the way with 613 runs from ten games while teenage sensation Prithvi Shaw, who has two hundreds to his name will have a stern test against the Karnataka seamers early on for Mumbai.
Krishnappa Gowtham, the off-spinner from Karnataka has 27 wickets will yet again look to combine with Shreyas Gopal and skipper Vinay Kumar to create problems for Mumbai while the middle-order of Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Abhishek Nayar will be eyeing to ward off the threat of the Karnataka spinners to give the upper hand to Mumbai.
Gujarat vs Bengal at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur
Defending champions Gujarat have benefited supremely well in the form of Priyank Panchal, who has carried on from where he left off last season and has amassed 538 runs from his nine games so far while youngster Rujul Bhatt has looked solid in the middle order.
While the Gujarat batsmen will have to wary of the threat posed by the experienced Ashoke Dinda, who has breathed fire this year and has 30 wickets to his name from just six games, Bengal will hope that their batsman, who have blown hot and cold right through the season bring their A-game onto the plate against the Parthiv Patel-led Gujarat and the challenge posed by Piyush Chawla.
The leg-spinner has enjoyed a phenomenal season so far and with 31 wickets from just five games, Chawla will be a vital component of Gujarat's surge in order to claim a stake in the semifinals while Siddharth Desai, the left-arm orthodox who has blossomed into a wonderful prospect for the future will have a major role to play while supporting his senior statesman.
Delhi vs Madhya Pradesh at Dr Gokaraju Liala Gangaaraju ACA Cricket Ground in Vijayawada
In the absence of skipper and star bowler Ishant Sharma, the Delhi bowling attack has been well led by the left-arm orthodox spin of Vikas Mishra, who has spun a web around the batsmen to pick a total of 24 wickets from his four games including a fifer in the last round-robin game.
Against Madhya Pradesh, who have depended on Harpreet Singh and Rajat Patidar for the bulk of the runs, Mishra's joint effort along with spearhead Navdeep Saini to apply the early pressure will be crucial for Delhi. Saini, in particular, has delivered his yorkers to perfection, making life extremely difficult for opposition batsmen which will be a talking point in the MP camp ahead of the camp.
The Delhi batting, which boasts of some big names such as Gautam Gambhir, Nitish Rana and skipper Rishabh Pant has looked steady while the likes of young Manan Sharma and Himmat Singh will look to complement the big three.
On the day, the onus will undoubtedly lie on ex-Indian opener Gambhir, who already has two hundreds to his name to lead the batting from the top of the order while the spin-pace duo of Mihir Hirwani and Ishwar Pandey will be banked upon to apply firm brakes to the Delhi charge.
Kerala vs Vidharbha at Lalabhai Contractor Stadium in Surat
Easily the story of the season so far has been that of Kerala's qualification into the Ranji quarters scenario, for the first time in the history of the tournament. Such was the jubilation on qualifying that the players could hardly control their emotions on the ground after beating Haryana in their last league game, even posing for a selfie taken by their skipper Sachin Baby, who has led them splendidly well right through the season.
However, the season has definitely belonged to all-rounder Jalaj Saxena. The off-spinner has heralded not only the bowling attack but has already strung together useful knocks that have seen his team through difficult situations. Along with Sanju Samson (577 runs from 10 matches), Saxena has amassed 482 runs from 11 matches apart from 38 wickets to his credit.
While Kerala is enjoying a dream run, a massive challenge lies in between them and a spot in the semifinals, a massive Vidarbha-sized obstacle. Led by the effervescent Faiz Fazal who is enjoying a purple patch of his own with 710 runs from eight matches, Vidharbha stormed into the quarters at the back of four wins from six games.
While Faiz has gone on to decimate bowling attacks, Sanjay Ramaswamy, his opening partner has been his partner in crime with 665 runs from eight games while seasoned players Ganesh Satish and Wasim Jaffer have also enjoyed a good outing.
On the bowling front, Akshay Wakhare will yet again be the cynosure of all eyes with his off-spin in a head to head clash with Kerala's off-spinner Saxena which will undoubtedly have a massive effect on the outcome of the game.