On paper, the first semi-final of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season looks like the battle of equals with Group A’s top two teams, Punjab and Saurashtra, all set for a face-off at Rajkot from January 16. But with 32 points from eight games and four outright wins, Punjab dominated the group whereas Saurashtra made it through to the knockout stages by the skin of their teeth. In the quarter-finals, both teams out-batted their respective opponents to reach the final four by virtue of the first-innings lead.
Punjab had a perfect start to the season thrashing Hyderabad and Bengal by an innings with debutant Jiwanjot Singh trailblazing his way to a double-century and century in the first two games. For Saurashtra, Ravindra Jadeja was the man in form compiling two triple-tons and leading his team’s wicket tally as well before he was called up for national duties.
Cheteshwara Pujara too pitched in with a crucial double-hundred in the final league game against Madhya Pradesh and added a triple in the quarters against Karnataka. Wicketkeeper-batsman Sagar Jogiyani and Sheldon Jackson have also enjoyed a good season with the bat scoring over 500 runs each but the bowling unit has failed to impress so far.
The Punjab bowling attack lead by young guns Sandeep Sharma and Siddharth Kaul and ably supported by veteran Manpreet Gony decimated Saurashtra when the two teams met in the league stage and they have done remarkably well throughout the season. Sandeep has so far scalped 41 wickets from eight games and Kaul has 38.
The 19-year-old Sandeep did not play the quarter-final owing to a shoulder injury but he is expected to be fit for the semi-final clash. Saurashtra will be missing their star players, Pujara and Jadeja, thus putting the onus on the in-form batsmen to score runs against a well oiled Punjab pace battery and they would be wary of India international Harbhajan Singh as well.
Jaidev Unadkat and Co. will have a tough time containing the Punjab batsmen on a placid Rajkot strip and runs will be scored in a heavy dose. As was the case in the quarter-finals, an outright win looks highly improbable and both the teams will look to out-bat each other into the final.
Saurashtra: Shitanshu Kotak, Sagar Jogiyani (wicketkeeper), Sheldon Jackson, Jaydev Shah (captain), Rahul Dave, Aarpit Vasavada, Chirag Jani, Kamlesh Makvana, Vishal Joshi, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Jaydev Unadkat.
Punjab : Jiwanjot Singh, Ravi Inder Singh, Taruwar Kohli, Mandeep Singh, Uday Kaul (wicketkeepr), Harbhajan Singh (captain), Amitoze Singh, Siddarth Kaul, Gurkeerat Singh, Sarbjeet Ladda, Manpreet Gony.