New Delhi: The fifth round of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season gets underway across the country on Saturday, with the previous round having resulted in some thrilling wins. Twelve teams have posted outright wins so far, and at the halfway stage those who have not will need to put in something special to stay afloat.
Here’s a look at the Group B matches starting December 1.
Haryana v Delhi at Lahli: This is the match to watch out for in round five. The Bansi Lal Cricket Stadium is capable of swallowing 20 wickets in a day with wintery conditions aiding pace bowlers significantly. The biggest beneficiaries have been Odisha and Baroda who, after nail-biting wins over Haryana, are ahead of Delhi at number one and two respectively in Group B.
With 11 points from four matches, a win will do no harm to Delhi's chances of making it to the quarter-finals and it's not beyond the seven-time champions provided they ride the result-oriented but notorious track in Lahli. Delhi have turned the tide after their first-round loss to Uttar Pradesh to come back with a bonus-point win over Odisha and back-to-back draws against Baroda and Tamil Nadu. Haryana, last year’s semi-finalists, have lost their three matches in home with collapses of 55 (against Vidarbha) and 66 (against Odisha) and a never-shredding final day against Baroda leaving them without a point.
Odisha v Maharashtra at Sambalpur: Odisha are on the rise after two outright wins in a row and will now chase a hat-trick of victories against Maharashtra, who have just four points from three outings.
Natraj Behera’s team have leapfrogged to the top of the Group B table with 13 points – joint level with Baroda – and will look to ride this wave of confidence over their opponents. Odisha’s success has been led by influential efforts from several players, and in the absence of stars and aggressive match-winners this could be their recipe this season and beyond.
A draw in Nagpur last round gave Maharashtra three points for the first innings-lead, following defeat in round three. The revelation for them was 31-year-old opener Virag Awate who become only the second player to score twin centuries on debut in the Ranji Trophy. The fact he was the mainstay of Maharashtra’s batting in both innings shows how shaky the batting has been.
Uttar Pradesh v Baroda at Kanpur: It’s a tight battle in the upper half of Group B, with Uttar Pradesh on 10 points to Odhisa and Baroda’s 13, with Delhi on 11. Thus these two teams find themselves in a scrap for the upper hand at a venue known to encourage spin.
Baroda won their first match in heart-stopping manner, thanks to the last-wicket parhe last-wicket pair of Bhargav Bhatt and Utkarsh Patel achieving only the 14th one-wicket victory in Ranji Trophy history. Though the win left Baroda coach Sanath Kumar worried about the state of the batting, considering how in the first innings the team went from 189 for 1 to 324 all out and in the second required two tailenders without batting credentials to put on 37 runs, Baroda should be a rejuvenated side at Kanpur. Especially if Yusuf Pathan is passed fit and returns to lead the team.
UP did not feature in the last round. Since beating a star-studded Delhi in their season opener, Suresh Raina’s team has taken one point from a run-fest in Pune and three against Karnataka in Pune. Their batting has been good – five players have scored centuries – but the bowling has been too reliant on Bhuveshwar Kumar (16 wickets at 23.81) and Imtiaz Ahmed (12 at 39.58). Praveen Kumar has not featured since the Delhi win, Piyush Chawla’s four wickets have cost 82.75 runs each, and Ali Murtaza has not looked a wicket-taking bowler.
Vidarbha v Tamil Nadu at Nagpur: One point separates the two opponents who have not lost a match this season, with Vidarbha having an extra match in hand over Tamil Nadu. While Tamil Nadu have a storied history and far more experienced players in their ranks, Vidarbha are a side lacking star value and also without their strike bowler, Umesh Yadav.
Tamil Nadu’s last match was a 104-run win over Maharasthra in Chennai, and after a round of rest they will be out to advance on the points table. That win was fashioned by the bowlers, in particular L Balaji, Malolan Rangarajan and Aushik Srinivas who secured the first-innings lead and bowled the opposition out for 80 in the second innings. Tamil Nadu’s batting was shaky, as totals of 276 and 149 show, so that’s an area where Vidarbha’s bowlers will look to exploit. Further, the ineffectiveness of spinner Jaganathan Kaushik (strike-rate of 390, average of 185) is an area where Vidarbha’s batsmen could cash in.
Vidarbha’s draw against Maharashtra fetched them one point and came after a draw against Baroda. The bowlers have been the stars so far, but with the bat they have problems. Subtract Hemang Badani’s defiant century against Baroda no batsman has reached three figures, though in two subsequent inning Badani has managed 60 runs. Faiz Fazal came closest with 98 and he remains the only player to top 200 runs. Former India and Odisha opener SS Das has tallied 111 runs with a best of 36 not out.