After demolishing the field in the league stages, runaway Group B winners Uttar Pradesh will be up against the upbeat Group C toppers Services in the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy quarter-final encounter at Indore's Holkar Stadium on Sunday.
With 32 points and big wins over heavyweights Delhi and last season's runners-up Tamil Nadu, UP dominated the league stages holding on to the top spot by the fourth match. Without their regular experienced frontline bowlers, Parveen Kumar and Sudeep Tyagi, not many had envisioned the 2006-07 Ranji Trophy winners would be able qualify for the knockouts with the likes of Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Vidarbha in the fray. But a total team effort from the veterans, led by Mohammad Kaif, and the young guns did the trick for UP this season.
On the other hand, Services, who dwelled at the bottom of the table more often than not for a good part of the last decade, came into the season with a totally new approach and attitude that was evident from their first game where despite being in trouble early on, they walked away with three points against Andhra. The Delhi-based team were never able to dominate in the league season unlike UP, but always managed to do a tad better than their opponents both in their home and away games. This was largely due the effort sof old hand Yashpal Singh (724 runs) and talented 21-year-old batsman Rajat Paliwal (629 runs).
Services\' three-pronged pace attack will have a tough time containing the in-form UP batsmen at the Holkar Cricket Stadium.
The season has seen UP score heavily with the bat whereas Services played a lot of low-scoring matches with their bowlers triumphing on most occasions. Opener Mukul Dagar will be the main batsman for UP whereas Services will be relying on their three-pronged pace attack of Suraj Yadav (32 wickets), Nishan Singh (20 wickets) and Shabhab Nazar (25 wickets) to deliver the goods against in-form batsmen. UP will miss the services of their talismanic allrounder Bhubaneswar Kumar, who did brilliantly both with the bat and ball at the start of the season, but 27-year-old Imtiaz Ahmed has been successful in spearheading the bowling attack. He has 34 wickets so far.
Services' batting has failed to click as a unit with Yashpal and Paliwal forming the nucleus, but their lower order has done reasonably well, often employing counter-attacking methods whenever the team was in trouble. Numbers 3, 4 and 5 have scored more than half of the team's total runs so far with the openers Pratik Desai and captain Soumik Chatterjee having indifferent form.
For UP, Ali Murtaza and Arish Alam came up with crucial all-round performances during the league stages but Services lacked that all-round player who could bring balance to the team. The rookie Shadab Nazar was drafted into the team as an allrounder but he has proved more of a frontline bowler. After two fifties in his first two games, Nazar's form has dipped drastically and he now plays at No.11. The lower order, lead by veteran wicketkeeper-batsman Sarabjit Singh, will play an important role in keeping the UP bowlers at bay if the top order fails.
This match is being held at neutral venue because of the Palam ground will be staging a warm-up match involving England on January 6. The Indore pitch is known to have something in it for the batsmen and bowlers. "UP is a very strong team and it would be a good contest. Playing at Indore would be good for us for us as it is a much better batting wicket than our home ground of Palam and our bowlers have put up strong performances even in unfavourable conditions," said Yashpal before departing to Indore.
Services: 1 Nakul Verma, 2 Soumik Chatterjee (capt), 3 Ansuhl Gupta, 4 Soumya Swain/Penta Rao, 5 Yashpal Singh, 6 Rajat Paliwal, 7 Sarabjit Singh (wk), 8 Avishek Sinha, 9 Suraj Yadav, Nishan Singh, 11 Shadab Nazar
Uttar Pradesh: 1 Tanmay Srivastava, 2 Mukul Dagar, 3 Mohammad Kaif, 4 Umang Sharma, 5 Parvinder Singh, 6 Arish Alam/Akhsdeep Nath, 6 Eklavya Dwivedi (wk), 7 Piyush Chawla, 8 Ali Murtaza, 9 Imtiaz Ahmed, 10 Ankit Rajpoot, 11 Sudeep Tyagi