New Delhi: The third round of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season gets underway across the country on Saturday, with eight teams having posted outrights wins so far. With several others languishing at the bottom of their respective groups, the onus will be on senior players to try and inspire their sides to better performances and more points.
Here's a look at the Group A matches starting November 17.
Bengal v Gujarat at Kolkata: Two middling teams take each on at Eden Gardens, with one point separating them on the points table. Gujarat are coming off a high-scoring draw against Saurashra, in which they posted 600 for 9 but conceded 716 for 3 and with it three points. Their batting is in form, in particular skipper Parthiv Patel (298 runs at 99.33), and Manpreet Juneja and Smit Patel are promising to have strong seasons. The surface at Eden Gardens will encourage the likes of Mehul Patel and Rakesh Dhurv, and it really is crucial that Gujarat improve significantly with the ball. Failure to win in Indore and then allowing Saurashtra to stack up 713 will rankle.
Bengal have three points in two matches, and sit at sixth on the Group A points table. Those three points came from a draw against defending champions Rajasthan in the first match, but defeat to Punjab last week has set them back. Wriddhiman Saha has crossed fifty in all four innings this season, but the rest of the batting has not delivered. Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary has yet to score a fifty and will be desperate to make himself be counted after the Indian selectors overlooked him for the Test squad. As usual, veteran allrounder Laxmi Ratan Shukla (189 runs at 63 and seven wickets at 15.14) will be relied on heavily to make an impact.
Hyderabad v Saurashtra at Hyderabad: Hyderabad languish at the bottom of Group A with one point from two games, having lost to Punjab by an innings and conceded three points to Madhya Pradesh last week. Only VVS Laxman has crossed 200 runs this season – the next best is opener Akshath Reddy with 132 – and that has been a major reason for Hyderabad's struggles. They have managed totals of 258, 239 and 341 which have not been enough to test the opposition. Conceding first-innings leads to Punjab (565 for 5) and MP (431 for 8) have also shown the bowling to be insufficient so far.
Saurashtra have three points from their solo appearance so far, thanks to a record 539-run stand between Ravindra Jadeja (303*) and Sagar Jogiyani (282). Needless to say, the batting isn’t the worry. While the conditions won’t be pancake-flat like in Surat, Saurashtra go into this match with the upper hand.
Railways v Punjab at Bhubaneshwar:Table-toppers Punjab, with 14 points after two outright wins, will play Railways at their adopted home if Bhubaneshwar in the eastern state of Orissa. Captained by 20-year-old Mandeep Singh in the absence of Harbhajan Singh, Punjab go into this match as favouries after innings victories over Hyderabad and Bengal at home. Railways will play their second match after not featuring in round two; their only match was the draw against Mumbai which gave them one point.
Punjab have been carried by their openers, in particular the rookie revelation Jiwanjot Singh who has a double-century and century in two innings. The 22-year-olds leads the season run charts with 371 at 185.50 and will be the big wicket Railways’ bowlers will strive to get. Karan Goel, Mayank Sidhana and Uday Kaul, the other three centurions, will also be targeted. With the ball, young Siddarth Kaul and Manpreet Gony are the leading wicket-takers and in Harbhajan's absence will need to be influential.
Railways will as always rely on veterans Sanjay Bangar and Murali Kartik, but will need more from the young bowling crop of Anureet Singh, Krishnakant Upadhyay and Hardik Rathod. Against a bursting Punjab batting line-up which has racked up runs in both matches, Railways cannot afford to be lackluster.
Rajasthan v Madhya Pradesh at Jaipur: Defending champions Rajasthan have one point to show from two draws, in which both times the first-innings lead was conceded. In a weather-hit match against Bengal the batting failed, and after posting making 478 against Mumbai the hosts failed to apply pressure with the ball. Mumbai replied with 579 and took three points.
While Rajasthan's batting has taken shape after a poor first match, the bowling has been shown up as one-dimensional. Barring the back-bent efforts of seamer Pankaj Singh no bowler has made a significant impact, and against a batting line-up with several batsmen in form, Rajasthan cannot afford to be dreary a third match in a row.
MP sit at third with four points, three of which came courtesy a fine rearguard effort from skipper Devendra Bundela and Jalaj Saxena in Hyderabad. In round one, Saxena was to the fore as he and Anand Rajan averted defeat in Gujarat. While Bundela’s team is proving skillful at getting out of jams, they won’t want to be in another against Rajasthan. A decisive match-winning performance is required.