New Delhi: The seventh sound of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season gets underway across the country on Saturday, with the previous round having resulted in six wins, including some exhilarating results and draws. Punjab have booked their place in the quarter-finals and remain head and shoulder above all others with 32 points, but below there is a tight battle to reach the knockout phase. Three teams stand on 20 and 17 points, one has 16, two 15 and another 14. Heading into the third-last round before the quarter-finals start on January 6, it’s too close to call who could join Punjab in the knockout.
Here’s a look at the Group B matches starting December 15.
Uttar Pradesh v Haryana at Lucknow: Coming off a draw with Vidarbha in round six, hosts Uttar Pradesh stand to gain significantly from victory over last-year’s semifinalists, Haryana, who hung on for a draw against Maharashtra. UP are top of the group on 20 points and a win will confirm their spot in the quarter-finals; a draw will leave them in the hunt for victory from their final two matches. Haryana, at last spot with seven points, will need to win their remaining three matches and hope other results to go their way.
Medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar was outstanding in the three-day win over Baroda, taking his eighth career five-wicket haul, but the batting was shaky. Middle-order batsman Arish Alam was voted Man of the Match for his century – the only one in the match – which delivered UP the first-innings lead and set the platform for victory. The likes of Mohammad Kaif and Mukesh Dagar, the only batsman to cross 400 this season, will need to be back to their strongest. UP will also be without Piyush Chawla, who is on national duty in Nagpur, but skipper Suresh Raina’s return to form with a century against Vidarbha is a good sign.
Baroda v Tamil Nadu at Vadodara: Like UP, Baroda are on 20 points and a win at home will secure their place in the quarter-finals. They have one less match, however, so will hope to beat Tamil Nadu – who they lead by 10 points - and not have to wait to face Maharasthra in the next round. A ten-wicket win over Odisha in round six helped Baroda move up the points table, and they will be hoping to put one past their southern opponents.
Tamil Nadu’s season hangs in the balance. They have 10 points after five matches, with just one victory. They did not feature in round six, and before they watched on for the second time this season as the opposition went past their huge total to snatch three points. The batting has been trustworthy if unspectacular, with two batsmen scoring over 300 runs and three crossing 200, but it is the bowling which has been a letdown. Only skipper L Balaji averages under 25 with the ball but he has been ruled out with a foot injury; Yo Mahesh has taken three wickets in three matches at 73 apiece.
Karnataka v Vidarbha at Mysore: Fans of Karnataka will hope that their team’s first outright win has indeed sparked life into an underwhelming Ranji season. After five matches, Vinay Kumar’s team beat Delhi at home last round to fetch six points and jump from last to sixth place on the Group B table.
The allrounder Stuart Binny played a big role in taking Karnataka to the knockouts in 2011-12, and against Delhi he featured by top-scoring in both innings and taking three wickets. The 19-year-old medium-pacer HR Sharath, in his third match, collected seven wickets to help clinch win. Vinay too is in good form, having taken 17 wickets in four matches.
Vidarbha have 12 points and like their opponents have three matches to play. They took one point from their last match against UP and the fitness of captain Ranjit Paradkar, who did not bat in the second innings after injuring himself in the field, is not known.
Delhi v Maharashtra at Delhi: Defeat in Bangalore has left Delhi on 11 points from six matches, and with two to play the situation is desperate for Shikhar Dhawan’s team. After hosting Maharashtra they play Vidarbha in the final round but that will be too nervous a wait for Delhi, so beating a team three points behind but with an extra match to play is imperative. Two wins with give Delhi at least 12 points – 14 if they claim the bonus point twice – but even that may not be enough to reach the quarter-finals.
Maharashtra are coming off a draw against Haryana, who they failed to bowl out in 116 overs even with a 208-run lead on day four. After the promise of their first match, they have failed to fire collectively and consistently. Three wins will keep them in content_cnion for the knockout phase but it’s tough to see that happening.