Saurashtra will miss the services of Jaydev Unadkat, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja when it squares off against Punjab in a quarterfinal clash at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Tuesday.
But under the leadership of Arpit Vasavada, the team wants to play to its strength, making the most of the home conditions. This season, Pujara and Unadkat have been in and out of the team due to national commitments, but the cricketers from Saurashtra managed to create history by beating Mumbai in its backyard and followed it up with straight victories against Delhi and Hyderabad to be placed on top of the points table from Elite Group B.
Though it got a reality check in the last couple of matches - going down to Andhra and Tamil Nadu - the Saurashtra team management believes that it has enough firepower to put up a brave show against Punjab.
“We played the first three matches of the season without JD (Unadkat), Pujara and Jadeja, but we still managed to get results. We have got used to playing without them as well. We will miss them for sure, but the boys are ready to step up and perform to the best of their abilities,” Saurashtra coach Neeraj Odedra told Sportstar.
And it’s this approach of not being overly dependent on the India internationals that has yielded results for Saurashtra as it reached two finals in the last three seasons, and even won the title in 2020.
The batting department has enough experience with Sheldon Jackson, Harvik Desai and Vasavada around, while on a typical Rajkot surface, which predominantly helps the batters before spinners make their way, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja - the left-arm spinning all-rounder - could prove effective. A seasoned campaigner, Jadeja has also bolstered the team’s batting in the lower middle-order and has also claimed 29 wickets in seven matches - the highest for his team this season.
While the conditions would help the home team, it would have its task cut out against Punjab, which will be missing the services of injured Abhishek Sharma. He has been replaced by young Pukhraj Mann, who featured in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and is a consistent performer with the U-25 team.
In the league stage, Punjab won three of its seven games and the remaining four were drawn. In the absence of Abhishek, who was one of the key batters along with Prabhsimran Singh, the visiting side will rely on the seasoned Mandeep Singh to step up and deliver.
While the team management is confident of the team’s batting firepower, Baltej Singh will spearhead the bowling department. He has claimed 34 wickets in seven games so far - the most by a seamer in the Elite Group this season - and in a knockout game, the team will pin its hopes on Baltej, who certainly has made all heads turn.
Punjab looks sorted in every department, at least on paper. But at home, Saurashtra will be a strong and powerful opponent, which would go all out to turn the tables on the touring side.
Match starts at 9.30am