Uttar Pradesh has stolen the march in the first three rounds of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, which has reached the business end here with top teams like Mumbai and Karnataka still uncertain about gaining a knockout spot. With 12 points from three successive wins UP is almost assured of the quarterfinal spot while Mumbai, with eight points, will have all the hard work to do.

The two days of rest allowed prior to the fourth round has rejuvenated the sides raising the prospect of an absorbing contest. This gains credence with the presence of players in both sides who combine the experiences of playing the IPL and the national side.

Mumbai boasts of names like Aditya Tare, Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur, Surya Kumar Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni and Abhishek Nair among others who have shown good form in the tournament. These will be the names Mumbai will expect to come good against a very composed UP side led by Suresh Raina.

“I would like to get some good runs before the start of the international calendar. There are lots of T20 tournaments including the World Cup this year making it essential for all of us to do well,” Raina said after UP put in a prolonged practice session of Wednesday afternoon. “My team is a young and talented side with a lot of players from smaller cities and towns like me. Many of them play the IPL, which have given them the exposure and the experience of top class cricket,” the UP captain said mentioning the names of opener Prashant Gupta, left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar and Aksdeep Nath. Raina, who is leaving for Australia on January 22 to play three T20Is, played a stellar role in ensuring the win in the last round against Karnataka and hoped to continue in the same strain against Mumbai.

Mumbai has been derailed a bit by the last ball loss against Karnataka in the second round. With an unrivalled record in Ranji Trophy, Mumbai’s stature has taken a beating in the shortest game where it has drawn a blank so far. “Unfortunately we ended on the losing side despite playing well (against Karnataka). We have to look ahead and try to give our best. We have come here to make an impact on the tournament and hopefully we will be able to deliver what we have planned,” said Abhishek Nair, the senior all-rounder who has consistently delivered for Mumbai.

Having managed only four points from a win in three matches so far, Karnataka’s survival depends on a win against a resurgent Maharashtra, which is in a better position with eight points. Despite having number of good players, Karnataka is still searching for the winning edge which it hopes to regain against Maharashtra.