Ranji semifinals: Interesting fare in the offing

Gujarat and Jharkhand will lock horns here at the old VCA Stadium at Civil Lines from New Year’s day for a place in the final.

The VCA Stadium, venue for the Gujarat vs Jharkhand semifinal.   -  PTI

Gujarat and Jharkhand have given Indian first-class cricket a big image makeover, by reaching the upper echelon of the Ranji Trophy championship. The two teams will lock horns here at the old VCA Stadium at Civil Lines from New Year’s day for a place in the final to be played in Indore.

For too long, the Western India State has been in the periphery, powerless as it was to match the skills and other essentials required for a team sport to make an impact and stake a claim for the title. Off and on though, Gujarat has made its presence felt by excelling in the limited-overs tournaments, contributing to the junior Indian teams, and with an enterprising and ambitious cricketer like Parthiv Patel making further headway playing for the country across all formats.

Jharkhand’s case has been peculiar; it was carved out following the bifurcation of Bihar one and half decades ago and it went on give India the phenomenal Mahendra Singh Dhoni and thereafter players like Saurabh Tiwary and more recently Ishan Kishan. Clearly the meteoric rise in the popularity of the game in these parts and other interiors of the country has resulted in many young cricketers producing sensational performances with the bat and ball which has raised the value quotient of the Ranji Trophy championship.

For example, Gujarat, though it won only two matches in the nine-team league stage, saw its fortunes go up with its top-order in Priyank Panchal and Samit Gohil and the middle-order in Bhargav Merai, Parthiv and Manpreet Juneja scoring heavily right through the league and in the quarter-final against Odhisha. Gujarat’s batting quality and depth has largely compensated its thin bowling resources that is driven by seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Rush Kalaria and the left-arm spinner Hardik Patel. Rudra Pratap Singh has played in only three matches so far, but skipper Patel hinted that the former Uttar Pradesh seamer would be a sure shot selection for the semis.

Jharkhand won five league matches, topped Group 'B' with 39 points and it scored an emphatic victory against Haryana in the quarter-final in Baroda's Moti Bagh ground. The team which has been in town for three days, began its preparations on Thursday. It arrived here on Saturday morning, sang a bollywood number in chorus and practised for almost three hours. The team from East Zone has plenty of flair to make the entertainment index rise; not even 19, left-hander Ishan Kishan has amassed 719 runs with three centuries and the seasoned campaigner Ishant Jaggi has scored 760 runs with three centuries and as many half centuries. There are other batsmen like captain Tiwary, Kaushal Singh and Virat Singh who have the ability to make Jharkhand a real competitor against Gujarat’s seam attack.

While Jharkhand has the batting depth, it does seem to be short in the seam department, especially after Ashish Kumar suffered a hip fracture against Odhisha after delivering just seven balls. In the circumstances, Tiwary would again rely upon seamer Rahul Shukla and his most trusted left-arm spinner Shabhaz Nadeem (50 wickets so far) to deliver the goods.

The pitch which has tended to assist the seamers in recent times — Shardul Thakur, Dhawal Kulkarni and Ashoke Dinda bagged a plenty in the Mumbai-Bengal league match — and there would be a lot of encouragement for the likes of Bumrah, R. P. Singh and Kalaria.

The teams:

Gujarat (from): Parthiv Patel (Captain, wk), Priyank Panchal, Samit Gohel, Bhargav Merai, Manprit Juneja, Rujul Bhatt, Chirag Gandhi, Rush Kalaria, Mehul Patel, Karan Patel, Hardik Patel, Chintan Gala, Dhriv Raval, Jasprit Bumrah and Rudra Pratap Singh.

Jharkhand (from): Saurabh Tiwary (Captain), Ishan Kishan, Ishank Jaggi, Virat Singh, Anand Singh, Kaushal Singh, Pratyush Singh, Rahul Shukla, Jaskaran Singh, Ajay Yadav, Vikash Singh, Shabhaz Nadeem, Samar Quadri, Sunny Gupta and Sumit Kumar.

Umpires: K. N. Ananthapadmanabhan and J. Madanagopal; Match Refeee: Narayanan Kutty.