Vijay Hazare Trophy: All eyes on international stars in knock-outs

The presence of M. S. Dhoni, R. Ashwin, M. Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Umesh Yadav and Suresh Raina, among others, will lend the country's premier 50-over competition the gloss it perhaps lacked previously.

Yuvraj Singh has scored 341 runs in five innings and has hit 16 sixes.

A big cast of India's international stars will illuminate the knock-out stages of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, which begin here on Wednesday. The presence of M. S. Dhoni, R. Ashwin, M. Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Umesh Yadav and Suresh Raina, among others, will lend the country's premier 50-over competition the gloss it perhaps lacked previously.

With the Australia tour less than three weeks away, the Vijay Hazare Trophy has gained extra significance, particularly since India last played an ODI nearly two months ago.

Dhoni featured in all of Jharkhand's games in Group B, but failed to make an impact with the bat, managing a top score of 44. The value of his leadership, however, cannot be disputed. Although Varun Aaron captained the team, Dhoni's work from behind the stumps was evident in placing the field, making canny bowling changes and, as the coach Rajiv Kumar admitted later, imbuing the group with a winning mentality.

Jharkhand finished on top of Group B in an outcome that had not been widely foreseen in winning five out of its six matches. On Wednesday, it will meet Delhi in the quarterfinals at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. Gautam Gambhir's men lost only to Vidarbha in Group C, winning all their other games.

“We've played consistent cricket but if you slip at any juncture, others can take advantage; that’s what happened with us (in the Ranji Trophy),” the Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya said. “If you look at the bigger picture, it wasn’t about the (big) names. The others contributed.”

Delhi, however, will not enjoy the services of Virat Kohli. “I spoke to Virat before the league stages and at that time he was not available,” Dahiya said. “After that, the selectors have had a chat with him; I don’t know what the news is there.”

Over at the Alur grounds on Wednesday, Punjab will be the favourite in its clash with Himachal Pradesh. Yuvraj Singh has been among the runs (341 in five innings); although that has not been enough to earn him a spot in the Indian ODI side. Siddharth Kaul tops the tournament's wicket charts with 16 scalps. It will be interesting to keep an eye on Yuvraj's sixer-count; he has 16 for the tournament now, nearly twice as many as anyone else.

On Thursday, Tamil Nadu, which advanced to the last eight in emphatic fashion, will expect to overcome Uttar Pradesh at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Before the start of this season, Ashwin had played only one List A game for Tamil Nadu in five years; he will want to cap off what has been a hugely successful year with his third Vijay Hazare title. At Alur on the same day, Axar Patel's Gujarat and Vidarbha will battle for the last semifinal spot. An interesting week lies ahead.