In the absence of star allrounder Ravindra Jadeja, away on India duty, Saurashtra will be reliant on an in-form Cheteshwar Pujara as they host Karnataka in the 2012-12 Ranji Trophy quarter-final at Rajkot from January 6-9.
Saurashtra have been overly dependent on Jadeja, who has had an outstanding season with 794 runs at 113.42 and 24 wickets in just five matches. But with Jadeja in India blues as the home team attempt to avert a 3-0 defeat to Pakistan in Delhi on Sunday, Saurashtra will now look to Pujara to make a mark as they aim at place in the final four. The 24-year-old returned to the side and stroked an unbeaten double-century – it took him 17 balls to move from 150 to 200 – in the win over Madhya Pradesh and is the most important player on either side.
Saurashtra displaced Gujarat from the No. 2 spot in Group A after beating MP and this is this their first trip to the knock-out stage since 2008-09, when they lost to eventual winners Mumbai in the semi-final. The previous season they reached the final four and lost to Uttar Pradesh. Two seasons prior, Saurashtra lifted the Ranji Trophy by beating Rajasthan. Of the side that won the title seven years seven seasons ago, only the captain Jaydev Shah, wicketkeeper Sagar Jogiyani and offspinners Kamlesh Makvana remain.
Having made the knock-out stage for the fourth year running, Karnataka will no doubt be brimming with confidence.
Of the three, two have left a mark. Jogiyani has topped 500 runs, starting the season with a career-best 282 out of a mammoth partnership of 539, the highest for a third wicket in Ranji Trophy history, with Jadeja. Makvana made a century and took six wickets in draw against Railways, and his 18 wickets are second to Jadeja's 24. Shah has struggled for consistency, averaging 24 in 12 innings, but remains a central figure due to his leadership experience. Each will need to deliver around Pujara if Saurashtra are to beat a spirited Karnataka, who have a far better bowling attack.
Karnataka's road from defeat to Odisha before the halfway mark to reaching the knockouts in thrilling fashion has become one of the talking point of the season. At one stage, defeat to Odisha threatened to derail their campaign and then when they lost their captain R Vinay Kumar to injury, Karnataka were robbed of their strike bowler. But the team rallied, beating Delhi and hanging on for a thrilling draw against Haryana. They needed victory in their final match and achieved it, and with a bit of help from some other teams reached the quarter-finals.
Having made the knock-out stage for the fourth year running, the Stuart Binny-led side will no doubt be brimming with confidence. They possess a strong batting line-up, featuring Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Ganesh Sathish, Amit Verma, Binny and this season's leading run-getter, the wicketkeeper CM Gautam. Their bowling is also multi-faceted, with Binny's deceptively skillful medium pace complimenting Abhimanyu Mithun and HS Sharath. Mithun was crucial to the qualifying win over Maharashtra last week, while the rookie Sharath has left a mark in his debut season with a team-high 21 wickets. Two batsmen Karnataka blooded in the second half of the season, Kunal Kapoor and Lokesh Rahul, have performed admirably and now face a test of nerve in the quarter-final.
Where Karnataka lack is in the spin department, and that is where they could really struggle on a docile Rajkot pitch. Left-arm spinner KP Appanna was preferred to fellow left-armer SK Moinuddin in the last league match, but the debutant managed just two wickets. Having been named in the squad for the quarter-final, Appanna could return though he has managed just 15 wickets in seven matches.
Saurashtra: 1 Shitanshu Kotak, 2 Sheldon Jackson (wk), 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Jaydev Shah (capt), 5 Rahul Dave, 6 Aarpit Vasavada, 7 Chirag Jani, 8 Kamlesh Makvana, 9 Vishal Joshi, 10 Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, 11 Jaydev Unadkat
Karnataka: 1 Lokesh Rahul, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Kunal Kapoor, 4 CM Gautam (wk), 5 Ganesh Satish, 6 Stuart Binny (capt), 7 Amit Verma, 8 Krishnappa Gowtham, 9 Abhimanyu Mithun, 10 HS Sharath, 11 KP Appanna