Ranji Trophy cricket has never experienced the sopping-wet month of June. It is under such conditions in Bengaluru, Punjab takes on Madhya Pradesh (MP) in the fourth quarterfinal at the KSCA (3) Cricket Ground from Monday. 

Both MP and Punjab topped their respective groups - A and F - during the league stage. That was, however, two months ago. Preparations for the knockouts were then stifled as nine players from the Punjab red-ball squad, and six from MP left for the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022 season.

Punjab, led by Abhishek Sharma, will be without seamer Arshdeep Singh who was included in the Indian T20I side for the South Africa series. However, it will benefit from the return of Shubman Gill, whose  availability was confirmed to Sportstar  by head coach Surendra Bhave on Friday.

READ: Ranji Trophy 2022 knockouts: Quarterfinal schedule, dates, squads, streaming info, weather forecast

Gill, who is coming off a title-winning run with Gujarat Titans in the IPL, did not feature in the league stages of the tournament. His last first-class appearance was for India in its home series against New Zealand in December 2021. Punjab will bank on its top-heavy batting to come good against MP which will miss the services of seamer Avesh Khan and all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer, due to national call-ups. 

MP will rely on vice-captain Rajat Patidar to continue his scorching form from the IPL. The right-hander recorded 333 runs in seven innings for the Royal Challengers Bangalore while coming in as a replacement player. Patidar had also lit up the league stages of the Ranji Trophy with four fifty-plus scores, including a crucial 142 against Kerala helping MP secure the quarterfinal berth.

READ: Ranji Trophy: Uttar Pradesh to face Karnataka’s might in quarterfinals

The teams will have their thinking caps on late until the toss at the venue as it hosts its maiden senior first-class match. With rain spells forecast for the first three days of play, a stop-start game might have the sides preferring to bowl first.

In the unlikely event of a washout where the teams fail to complete their first innings, MP will qualify for its first semifinal since 2015-16 by virtue of its superior run quotient (2.147) over Punjab (1.466) during the league stage.

Punjab league stage performers

Most Runs: Mandeep Singh - 358 runs (4 innings)

Most Wickets: Baltej Singh - 18 wickets (6 innings)

Madhya Pradesh league stage performers

Most Runs: Yash Dubey - 422 runs (4 innings); Rajat Patidar - 335 runs (4 innings)

Most wickets: Gaurav Yadav - 12 wickets (4 innings); Kumar Kartikeya - 12 wickets (5 innings)