Jamshedpur: Punjab will start as favourites when they take field against Jharkhand at Jamshedpur on January 6 in the quarter-final of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy, but the hosts are a dangerous proposition on what is expected to be a rank turner.
Punjab's strength lies in their fast bowling which has enabled them to garner four outright victories on their home ground in Mohali. On the pitch tailor-made for seamers, Sandeep Sharma and Siddharth Kaul cobbled together to demolish Hyderabad, Bengal, Saurashtra and the defending champions Rajasthan. Jiwanjot Singh, playing in his debut Ranji season, grabbed the opportunity and cracked four centuries – beginning with a double century on debut against Hyderabad - as Punjab dominated the Group A points table. However, they lost their last two league matches against Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat when they moved out of Mohali.
Jharkhand, on the other hand, had a roller-coaster ride. They won three matches and lost two. While their batting was inconsistent - with the exception of Saurabh Tiwary who scored 601 runs at 50.08 - their spinners Shahbaz Nadeem and Sunny Gupta bowled well in tandem and chalked up 40 and 25 wickets respectively. The inclusion of medium-pacer Ajay Yadav in the middle phase of the tournament proved a masterstroke as he snapped up 23 wickets - with two 10-wicket hauls - in four matches to orchestrate victories against Tripura and Services.
A rank turner at the Keenan Stadium pits the successful host spin duo against a batting line-up bristling with talent.
The pitch at Keenan Stadium is more suited to Jharkhand. It is expected to assist spinners, and left-arm spinner Nadeem and offspinner Gupta have snaffled 15 wickets each in two matches played at this ground in this season. It will be a challenge for the Punjab seamers to claim wickets on this surface. Harbhajan Singh is expected to play in the match and his presence will give a huge fillip to the visitors.
Punjab have a clear upper hand as far as batting is concerned. Along with Jiwanjot, Uday Kaul is in terrific form (501 runs at 62.62) while Mandeep Singh smashed a double-century against Mumbai to get some runs under his belt. For Jharkhand, only Tiwary has been consistent. Opener Manish Vardhan and Ishank Jaggi have performed sporadically. Taking all the factors into account, it seems to be a contest between the Punjab batsmen and Jharkhand’s spinners.
Jharkhand: 1 Akash Verma, 2 Manish Vardhan, 3 Rameez Nemat, 4 Saurabh Tiwary, 5 Ishank Jaggi, 6 Shiv Gautam (wk), 7 Sunny Gupta, 8 Shahbaz Nadeem (capt), 9 Shankar Rao, 1- Ajay Yadav, 11 Samar Quadri
Punjab: 1 Jiwanjot Singh, 2 Karan Goel, 3 Ravi Inder Singh, 4 Mandeep Singh, 5 Mayank Sidhana, 6 Uday Kaul (wk), 7 Rahul Sharma, 8 Harbhajan Singh (c), 9 Manpreet Gony, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 Siddharth Kaul