Haryana\'s campaign hasn\'t been a flashy one this season with just one outright win in their 6 group ties.
When Haryana play against Rajasthan on Tuesday, it will be their first Ranji Trophy semi-final appearance since 1991. That year they also went on to win the title.
However, their task is cut out this time as they face the defending champions Rajasthan at the Bansi Lal Cricket Stadium in Lahli, not far from Rohtak. Haryana's campaign hasn't been a flashy one this season with just one outright win coming their way from their six Group B matches.
In their opener against north India neighbours Delhi, they batted poorly in the first innings to walk away from the Roshanara Club Ground with just one point. Things got worse for them against Tamil Nadu in the next match. Defending just 145, somehow, they managed to keep the hosts to 141 for 8 in 13 overs in the final innings of the thriller.
Against Baroda, they batted well to walk away with three points from the match, but not before giving Baroda a chance to get back into the match by collapsing for just 195 in the second innings. In the match against Bengal, the Baroda story repeated itself. Haryana batted well in the first innings but were skittled for just 169 in their second essay to set the visitors a target of 189 to win in 28 overs. Bengal could only manage 128 for 5, to Haryana's great relief.
Again Madhya Pradesh, they averted a big defeat by some solid batting in the second innings after following on. It was their first steely performance of the season, though nobody gave them a chance for the quarter-finals.
But in a must-win match against Gujarat, Haryana beat the hosts in Surat by 140 runs to do the unthinkable. When it emerged that their quarter-final opponents would be six-time champions Karnataka, most guessed their journey was all but over. However, there were more surprises as they knocked out the giants inside three days.
It has to be admitted Haryana have been very ordinary this season and making the semi-finals is nothing less than hitting a jackpot. Though they go into the match as underdogs, the fact that they are playing at home might just work in their favour. They have a lot to answer for.
The best batting bet for them has got to be the trio of Nitin Saini (603 runs), Sunny Singh (592 runs) and Delhi-born Rahul Dewan (590 runs). If they click together, they are going to test Rajasthan. In the bowling, it's got to be captain Amit Mishra. The former India legspinner has taken just 21 wickets in six matches this season, but he is an experienced leggie who has everything in his repertoire. On his day he can be a real nuisance to the best of batsmen. Who knows, this might just be his game.
Haryana may not look too threatening at the moment, but Rajasthan's veteran batsman Aakash Chopra refuses to write them off. "Haryana are a good side. They have come through the ranks. Like us, they are also high on confidence. I am expecting a tough match. Also, they are playing on their own turf. That makes them all the more dangerous," he told Cricketnext.
Rajasthan are the nouveau riche of the domestic cricket with their first title coming last year in their ninth final. Right now they look the overwhelming favourites, having got their campaign back on track after conceding the first-innings lead in their first five matches. The manner in which Rajasthan rallied to win their last two league matches and clinch the quarter-final against Hyderabad on the basis of a first-innings lead was awe-inspiring and highlights the mental strength of the team.
With Chopra having found his groove - he ranked his 142 in the quarter-finals as one of his best innings ever - and the season's highest run-scorer in Robin Bist, as well as a capable bowling attack suddenly in form, they are high on confidence but cannot afford to be complacent. As the entire Rajasthan squad knows, anything can happen during the knock-outs.