Some of the stars who shone bright over the last two weeks will be missing in action, thanks to the India A tour to Bangladesh overlapping with the domestic cricket season. Still, it will not take the sheen off the knockout stage of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the inter-state one-day championship, which begins here on Saturday.
While the toppers in each of the five groups of the league stage have got a direct entry into the quarterfinals, the three pre-quarterfinals will see some of the veterans and seasoned pros joining hands with the promising youngsters on either sides of the Sabarmati river.
Karnataka will face Jharkhand in a repeat of the group clash at the Narendra Modi Stadium. Adjacent to the world’s largest cricket stadium, Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh will lock horns at the NMS ‘B’ Ground in a bid to enter the last eight. Kerala will hope to halt Jammu & Kashmir’s march at the Gujarat College Ground in the heart of the city.
It will be interesting to see how Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala cope with the absence of India A-bound performers after the league stage. Sarfaraz Khan and Yashasvi Jaiswal’s unavailability will be a blow for Ajinkya Rahane-led Mumbai, while UP will be without its primary spinner Saurabh Kumar.
Kerala will hope for captain Sachin Baby to fire in the absence of consistent opener Rohan Kunnummal against dangerous Jammu & Kashmir, which has qualified for the knockouts for the first time.
In the absence of the in-form players, the likes of Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw will be desperate to serve a notice to the soon-to-be newly appointed selection committee. On the other hand, veterans Manish Pandey and Rahane will be looking forward to getting the best out of their unit.
While Tamil Nadu, the only team to have lifted the trophy five times so far, will be up in action on Monday, Karnataka and Mumbai - with four titles apiece - will be keen on keeping its title march alive on Saturday.
The league stage of the tournament was largely dominated by batters, with 92 hundreds in 126 league matches. The century-count has already exceeded the previous highest of 86 in the 2020-21 season.
With all the knockout games set to be played during day-time, it will be interesting to see whether seamers play a decisive role by extracting early advantage in chilly conditions over the next week.