Ranji Trophy: The batting stars

Ahead of Thursday's quarterfinals, we find out how the top run-getters are gearing up for the knockout stage.

Mayank Agarwal he Karnataka opener endured the ignominy of a pair before his remarkable turnaround.   -  SANDEEP SAXENA

Through his spectacular form that began with an unbeaten triple-century, Mayank Agarwal has been the most noticeable batsman in the Ranji Trophy in the group stages. A few others have, however, repeatedly dug in to deliver their sides strong totals to carve out a crucial first innings lead. In the cut-throat competition, the exploits of some of these batsmen – most prominently, Punjab debutant Anmolpreet Singh – have gone in vain.

Importantly, the successful sides in the tourney thus far have ensured a good run of form for more than one batsman in the line-up, such as Vidarbha’s Faiz Fazal and Sanjay Ramaswamy. The team has, thereby, ensured a creditable run, notching up four wins – including against fellow qualifier Bengal – in its unbeaten campaign thus far. The quarterfinals – three of them will be held in western India – are likely to be batting friendly tracks and therefore the onus on in-form batsmen will be more in the likely struggle for first-innings lead among the strong sides that still remain in the competition.

Gauging by form and potential, here are five batsmen who could make a big impact in these matches.

READ: Ranji Trophy: The bowling spearheads

Mayank Agarwal: The Karnataka opener endured the ignominy of a pair before his remarkable turnaround. This came in the form of an unbeaten 304 that laid the foundation for a strong total, ultimately ensuring an innings win for his side. His prolific run continued for the next three matches, two of which were converted to victories. His run has ensured that despite a slow start to his campaign – he scored a total of 31 runs in the first two matches – he has now, under his belt, 1064 runs in the season.

More ominously, his attacking prowess has also been displayed in his high range of scores.

The innings of 90 against Uttar Pradesh in Kanpur was scored off 73 balls. He had hit 16 boundaries en route. That knock was one of two that haven’t been converted to three figures since the turnaround.

Faiz Fazal is a veteran, having played 95 first-class matches, and therefore, mature in terms of his batting.   -  PTI

 

Faiz Fazal: The Vidarbha opener has been instrumental in allowing his team to garner four outright wins in the season. If he isn’t scoring the runs, his opening partner Sanjay Ramaswamy is scoring them. He has scored four centuries in eight innings in the season so far, at an average of 101.42. That his form could be peaking going into the knockout stages is suggested by his knock of 206 – the highest of his career – arriving just ahead of the quarterfinals, against Himachal.

Moreover, Fazal is a veteran, having played 95 first-class matches, and therefore, mature in terms of his batting. Against the stronger teams in the quarters, Vidarbha will look up to him to remain unruffled up the order. As they say, a good start is half the job done.

Siddhesh Lad: Mumbai has had to look up to its lower middle-order to bail it out of tough situation in the iffy campaign it has had so far. Had it not been for Siddhesh Lad’s unbeaten 71 against Baroda in the second innings, the team may not have gone through to the second round. That innings of Lad, compiled under pressure and amid the crowd of close-in catchers around, just about prevented Mumbai from conceding a defeat to Baroda; incidentally, it was its 500th Ranji Trophy match.

Against Odisha, too, his second-innings century was crucial in ensuring a victory in Bhubaneswar – the margin, 120 runs. Earlier, against Madhya Pradesh, he scored 82, helping Mumbai narrowly snatch the first-innings lead.

Amid the cacophony of stylish and aggressive batsmen, Lad is somewhat of an anomaly. His strike-rate of 50 suggests an understated approach, but also of responsibility, which will be what his team looks for in the do-or- die fixture against Karnataka.

Manish Pandey e scored his highest first-class score (238) in a victory over Uttar Pradesh and followed it up with a century over Railways in Delhi.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Manish Pandey: Like his opening counterpart, this Karnataka middle-order batsman is also in prime form. If Mayank Agarwal has dominated the run charts, Pandey has not been left behind in the matches he has played. Pandey has scored two centuries and a fifty in just four innings so far, with the other innings being an unbeaten 34; he was absent from the rest of the campaign due to his India call-up for Twenty20s against Australia.

He scored his highest first-class score (238) in a victory over Uttar Pradesh and followed it up with a century over Railways in Delhi. With both Agarwal and himself on song, Karnataka has had little problems ensuring gigantic totals – its first innings scores of its last three matches read 628 for 5, 649 and 655. His experience of 84 first-class matches holds him in good stead ahead of the tougher tests to follow.

Sanju Samson: With two centuries and three half-centuries in 10 innings, Samson has been the batting bedrock of Kerala’s dominant showing the group stages.

Moreover, the 23-year- old has scored those runs – a total of 577 – at a strike-rate of 70.45 and with the help of 19 sixes, the most among the leading run-getters in the competition so far. His capabilities of dominance were outlined by his match- winning performance against Saurashtra in Thiruvananthapuram. Facing the prospect of gaining only one point out of the game due to a first-innings deficit, Samson hit a quickfire knock of 175 (off 180 balls) for a second innings total of 411 for 6 before his bowlers seized the momentum to get the opposition bowled out for 95.

The wicket-keeper batsman scored a century in the warm-up fixture against the visiting Sri Lankans, too. With the quarterfinal against Vidarbha likely to be played on a dustbowl in Surat, Kerala will look up to Samson to provide the early impetus.