Ranji Trophy: Final four battle for glory

In the semifinal at Eden Gardens, a young Vidarbha side will take on Karnataka which has played “ruthless cricket” this season. In the other semifinal, Delhi bowlers should feel at home in Pune conditions but it will come against a Bengal side that eliminated defending champion Gujarat.

In a season where everything has gone right for them, Karnataka will again be banking on the fact that it has been to able to deliver in all the departments.   -  Prashant Nakwe

Much before the knockout stage of the Ranji Trophy got underway, Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal had made a very interesting observation. Taking on Kerala in the quarterfinals, Fazal felt that it was ultimately a clash of two teams with equal potential. If a buoyant Kerala was out to make history — qualifying for the knockouts for the first time — Vidarbha too was keen on shedding off the ‘chokers’ tag.

That Fazal was not wrong was proven by the way his side drubbed a young Kerala side to storm into the semifinals. If Kerala banked on its youngsters, Vidarbha — under the guidance of its much experienced coach Chandrakant Pandit — ensured that it outplayed the opponent with similar tactics.

Vidarbha’s Gurbani on fire

Despite being bundled out for a meagre 246, Vidarbha unleashed young Rajneesh Gurbani to rip apart the Kerala batting attack. That trick worked as the young gun scalped a five-for in the first innings. That not only gave his side the crucial first innings lead, but also set the tone of the match.

In the second innings, the batting department too showed signs of steel with captain Fazal hammering a ton along with young Apoorv Wankhade. Relying on the youngsters and their game reading abilities, Vidarbha could get the better of Kerala, which had a remarkable season under the guidance of coach Dav Whatmore.

Ranji quarterfinal round-up

In the semifinal, however, the challenge will be far difficult as Vidarbha will be taking on Karnataka at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. But then, Fazal is not too worried. “They are a strong side, but then, we are not thinking much about it. We will be watching videos from their previous games, and follow our routine,” the Vidarbha captain told Sportstar.

All-round Karnataka

In the group stage, Vidarbha had taken on Bengal at Kalyani, and went on to win the encounter. The skipper believes that experience will help the team tackle Karnataka better. “The wicket will be tough. We have won outright games in the past. Team’s energy and vibe is great. People will deliver again,” the captain said.

In a season where everything has gone right for them, Karnataka will again be banking on the fact that it has been to able to deliver in all the departments. In a clash of the evens against Mumbai in the quarterfinals, it was an all-round performance that did the trick for the R. Vinay Kumar-led side.

If Mayank Agarwal had a moderate outing, his team-mate Shreyas Gopal slammed a 150 to ensure that things went well for the side. And the bowling department had K. Gowtham ripping apart the opponent, scalping a six-for.

Speaking to Sportstar, Karnataka coach P. V. Shashikanth called it ‘ruthless’ cricket. “We will continue playing our natural game and that should work well,” the coach said.

But then, he is not taking Vidarbha too lightly. “We cannot take any team lightly. When they have come to semifinal, that means they have played well,” he said. Though neither of the sides know how the wicket would behave in Kolkata, Shashikanth hopes that the wicket will have ‘something for the bowlers’.

Delhi vs Bengal: Bowlers hold the key

In the other semifinal between Bengal and Delhi at the MCA Stadium in Pune, bowlers will play the key role. The Gahunje track, which has a reputation of favouring the bowlers, could well be a happy hunting ground for Bengal seamer Ashok Dinda, who is in good form.

In the quarterfinals against Gujarat, nobody thought Bengal would put the defending champion on the mat. However, it was buoyed by a double century from Writtik Chatterjee and eliminated the holder. It would also be happy with the way the old warhorse Anustup Majumder reinvented himself with the bat, who scored a fighting century.

In the semifinal, the side will also heavily rely on its bowlers — Dinda, Ishan Porel and B. Amit. Having gelled well as a unit, Bengal would be hoping to keep the momentum going in a season where things have fallen in place for the side.

But then, Delhi too would be raring to go. Under the leadership of young Rishabh Pant, the side has been able to tick the boxes in all the departments. The focus will, however, be on Gautam Gambhir. The former India opener played a knock of 95 in the second innings against Madhya Pradesh in the quarterfinals, and he would be hoping to keep the momentum going.

After a decent start, Delhi has been able to execute the plans and sail through smoothly. In the conditions of Pune, which is tad bit like the national capital (sans the smog), Delhi pacers won’t be alien to the surroundings.

Before the quarterfinals against Madhya Pradesh, skipper Pant had told Sportstar his intention to address each and every situation. That is one thing Delhi has taken seriously this season. Taking lessons from the last year’s incident where Gambhir allegedly went into a confrontation with coach K. P. Bhaskar, Delhi has focused on building a happy unit.

So far it has been successful in maintaining the harmony. A win in Pune would only increase it further.