New Delhi: The seventh sound of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season gets underway across the country on Saturday, with the previous round having resulted in six wins, including some exhilarating results and draws. Punjab have booked their place in the quarter-finals and remain head and shoulder above all others with 32 points, but below there is a tight battle to reach the knockout phase. Three teams stand on 20 and 17 points, one has 16, two 15 and another 14. Heading into the third-last round before the quarter-finals start on January 6, it’s too close to call who could join Punjab in the knockout.
Here’s a look at the Group C matches starting December 15.
Services v Jammu & Kashmir at Delhi: Taking the first-innings lead from Goa in round six kept Services at the top of the Group C table, and a win over a rejuvenated Jammu & Kashmir will secure their place in the quarter-finals. If they do not win, Services still have one match against Jharkhand to try and make it further.
Veteran batsman Yashpal Singh scored his second century (166*) of the season against Goa to cross 600 runs, and with two centuries in two matches the captain Soumik Chatterjee has blossomed. Services possess a determined bowling attack and against J&K, who have won two in two, it will have to deliver.
How J&K has transformed after a poor start to the season, and one dogged by infighting and politics, is shaping up to one of the underdog stories of the season. Their 74-run win over Kerala last round was the first time J&K had won a second Ranji Trophy match in a season since 2000-01, and against the group leaders they will be eying a hat-trick. With consecutives centuries in both wins, the captain Ian Dev Singh is enjoying a purple patch while the allrounder Parvez Rassol has 17 wickets in both successes. A bit more from some of the others, and J&K could surprise Services.
Jharkhand v Andhra at Dhanbad: Three points behind Services on 17, Jharkhand have three matches in which to push their case for the quarter-finals and it is reliable aspiration. They have won two matches, the second of which came inside two days during the previous round, and with Kerala and Services to follow after this match Jharkhand remain one of the strongest teams in Group C.
The bowlers set up the win over Tripura, in particular Ajay Yadav with ten wickets in the match and Shankar Rao with 5 for 36 in the second innings. Jharkhand’s batting remains shaky and that will be an area Andhra’s bowlers will look to expose. The visitors boast a potent bowling attack, with D Shivkumar (16 wickets at 15) and DP Vijaykumar (17 at 18.29) carrying the team this far.
Goa v Himachal Pradesh at Porvorim: Despite possessing talented and in-form batsmen - one of whom has four centuries and 617 runs in six matches - and the season’s leading wicket-taker, Himachal Pradesh have failed to win a single match. With 11 points and two matches to go, they too face a mountain to climb to stay alive.
Paras Dogra’s purple patch has seen him reach three figures more than any other batsman this season, while allrounder Rishi Dhawan has 460 runs with three centuries and a season-leading 32 wickets with his medium pace. Yet repeatedly Himachal have failed to bowl out sides after getting into favorable positions thanks to the batsmen. Dhawan has been backed very well by veteram seamer Vikramjeet Malik (25 wickets) but the support after that has been disappointing. The next highest wicket-taker is Gurvinder Singh with eight, meaning that Dhawan and Malik have taken 67 percent of the wickets to fall to bowlers (excluding run outs).
Goa, meanwhile, have nine points from five matches without a victory. Thought they have yet to lose, the lack of penetration with the ball has left them facing the prospect of drawing more often than not. Like Himachal, the bowling has been carried by two individuals – Saurabh Bandekar with 23 wickets and skipper Shadab Jakati with 17. No other bowler has crossed 10 wickets. With the bat, only Ravikant Shukla has topped 400 and the professional, former Haryana and Himachal batsman Manvinder Bisla, the only one to 300 though he has not scored a century in six innings.
Tripura v Kerala at Agartala: It’s the clash of the basement dwellers. Neither Tripura (eight points) nor Kerala (four points) look capable of crossing 20 points in the remainder of the season, and considering both are coming off crushing defeats the morale would be low.
Tripura were rolled over in two days by Jharkhand in round six, with their second-innings collapse to 86 – their fourth-lowest total in first-class cricket – hastening defeat after seamers Timir Chanda (6 for 44) and Manisankar Murasingh (4 for 51) had combined to bowl the opposition out for 109. Kerala were beaten by 74 runs at home, chasing a target of 204 against J&K. From 44 for 0 they lost five wickets for 21 runs and their last four for 15.