Ranji Trophy: An analysis of the semifinalists

Here is a look at the four teams that will feature in the semis which begin next week.

Rajkot is the venue for the Ranji semifinals between Mumbai and Tamil Nadu.   -  K. R. Deepak

The Ranji Trophy has been narrowed down to four semifinalists who have weathered testing conditions at neutral venues all over India in the league stages and topped other tough opponents in the quarterfinals. Last year, the surprise semifinalist was Assam; this time what has been surprising is Jharkhand's all-round dominance. Mumbai seems to always find a way to the knockouts; this time it did, too, despite injuries to its batsmen.

Here is a look at the four teams that will feature in the semis which begin next week.

Mumbai

The defending champion has not bossed other teams around, but has somehow managed to sneak past opponents to register a place in the last four. The template continued in the quarterfinals, with a victory only by 30 runs against Hyderabad in what was a neck-and-neck race. All-rounder Abhishek Nayar's contributions proved crucial in the final analysis; Mumbai may not have been able to topple its opponent without his half-century and a five-wicket haul in the second dig.

Its batting, in the early phase of the competition, shone via opener Akhil Herwadkar, who scored two centuries and a 96 in back-to-back matches. The team survived a scare against Tamil Nadu, faltering against fast bowlers K. Vignesh and Aswin Crist.

Its fast bowling stalwart Shardul Thakur showed his expertise in a tight contest against Bengal, and he was assisted by Tushar Deshpande, whose five wickets sealed the contest against Railways. Its spin attack is led by left-arm spinner Vijay Gohil, who has also put in some impressive performances.

Herwadkar's injury is a crucial blow to Mumbai, which takes on Tamil Nadu in the first semifinal in Rajkot.

Jharkhand

In an authoritative Ranji Trophy campaign so far, Jharkhard has eliminated other teams with players who seem like seasoned campaigners. However, its batting and bowling departments are led by youngsters who rank high in the tournament's stats tallies. Ishank Jaggi and Ishan Kishan have compiled 760 and 719 runs respectively, in nine matches, and its spinner Shahbaz Nadeem is, so far, the tournament's top wicket-taker with 50 scalps.

The overall performance of Jharkhand is reflected by the top position it held in Group B, dominating the likes of Karnataka, Odisha and Delhi. This is despite an injury to its strike bowler Varun Aaron.

Among the memorable performances this season are the 12-wicket haul by Nadeem which helped his team topple Rajasthan in a low-scoring victory, and Kishan's 273 against Delhi batting at No. 6, the best individual score by a Jharkhand batsman. In its comprehensive campaign in which it has not yet suffered a loss, others such as Saurabh Tiwary, Vishal Singh and Kaushal Singh have also chipped in.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu has had its ups and downs this season, as it seems to usually have. The team thrives on a potent fast-bowling attack, and some counter-attacking batting display from a quality line-up that includes India internationals Dinesh Karthik and Abhinav Mukund, both of whom have put in impressive performances this season.

Its mixed season is reflected by the table, which has it positioned third in the Group A, with five draws and one defeat. Among its two victories was one against Railways, in which it conceded a first-innings lead but bounced back with centuries from Mukund and Karthik, and an effective bowling performance led by Malolan Rangarajan.

Kaushik Gandhi has been its most consistent performer with the bat in the tournament, with 726 runs at 60.50.

Against the tide, it seems, it turned the tables on Karnataka in the quarterfinals. Its fast bowlers rattled the opposition and finished the match within two days. Facing Mumbai, however, will be a difficult challenge if the pitch is not too helpful, but considering the quality it has in its line-up, Tamil Nadu can spring a surprise next week, too.

Gujarat

Gujarat's Priyank Panchal is this season's top run-getter this season. Samit Gohil, who occupies the seventh spot in the charts, and Panchal outline Gujarat's strong batting advantage against opponents in the current campaign. Gohil's unbeaten 359 against Odisha in the quarterfinals was the highest score by an opener carrying his bat. But besides these two, others such as captain Parthiv Patel have also chipped in with useful efforts.

Its bowling is led by medium-pacer Rush Kalaria,who has taken 26 wickets in eight matches at 21.53. He is ably supported by Mehul Patel, the medium pacer, and Hardik Patel.

It seems the team is capable of overcoming any opposition score in batting-friendly wickets, but is a dark horse against Jharkhand in the semis next week.