Madhya Pradesh will aim to make it five wins in a row to make the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarterfinals when it takes on Uttar Pradesh at the Jaipuria Vidhyalaya Ground on Sunday.

The team hasn’t lost a game since suffering a narrow defeat to Maharashtra in the opening game, profiting primarily from IPL star Venkatesh Iyer and Shubham Sharma – the two batters have a combined tally of 684 runs in this tournament, in six matches. Venkatesh, in particular, has been irresistible: his 151 less than a week ago against Chandigarh was nothing less than a six-fest. He struck 10 sixes and eight fours in a whirlwind knock (strike-rate: 133.62).

However, if the team is put to bat in the cold conditions of the morning, the ability to graft may be a bigger asset. Temperatures can plummet to single digits (in degrees centigrade) in this part of the world and the latent moisture can be a handful for the team bowling first.

Aditya Shrivastava, the captain, was confident his team will do well in this last leg of the competition, after making it here on the back of its second-place finish from Group ‘D’. “We’re very confident of making it to the semifinals. We are just looking to make the best of our abilities. Let’s see how the game goes tomorrow,” he told  Sportstar .

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Noting that Iyer was all the more assured as a batter after his experience in the IPL and with the Indian team, he said, “That is obviously a very good thing a cricketer can have -- confidence up his sleeve at the highest level. But he’s always been a confident player.” Indeed, earlier this year, Iyer had been among runs in both the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy, a run of form that saw him wear the KKR jersey. 

On the other hand, the other IPL star in the line-up, Avesh Khan, has been tepid at best, procuring just five wickets from five matches, at an average of 56.60 and an economy rate of 5.77.

These promising young stars may be the beacon of hope for Madhya Pradesh as it steps out of the shadows of Naman Ojha, the colossal figure who served his state for the best part of two decades. Ojha’s retirement earlier this year left a void too hard to fill, admitted Shrivastava. 

“But we have some youngsters; he had only groomed many of them, and now that Chandrakant (Pandit) sir has joined us, it will be a huge experience for many of these players.”

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In contrast, Uttar Pradesh is devoid of players who have sizzled in the last IPL. Nonetheless, it remains a formidable opponent, a team which finished as the runner-up in the last season. The 24-year-old Rinku Singh is in good form with the bat – 245 runs in five innings – while fast bowler Yash Dayal has 11 wickets, including a 5 for 31 against Hyderabad in Mullanpur, Chandigarh, on December 12.  

UP will look up to Dayal and the seasoned Ankit Rajpoot to make the early breakthroughs if it manages to put the opposition in. Given the fact that the team has been negotiating the chilly mornings of northern India throughout the last 10 days, it may perhaps be better prepared mentally to handle the challenge posed here. 

Both teams slugged it out in the lush facilities at the Rajasthan Cricket Academy at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium premises. 

Saturday, Day One of the knockout round, will feature two more duels – Karnataka takes on Rajasthan in a pre-quarterfinal at the K. L. Saini Stadium, while Vidarbha plays Tripura at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.

All matches begin at 9 am IST.