Karnataka, Mumbai, TN & MP assured of last eight berths
Teams with contrasting mindsets go into the last round of the Ranji Trophy Elite league with four quarterfinal berths accounted for and two up for grabs.
In Group ‘A', Karnataka (21 points) and Mumbai (20) are assured of the last eight berths, while the five teams that follow wrestle for the lone vacancy. Punjab (15) plays Mumbai and only an outright win will assure it of a quarterfinal slot.
Punjab can sneak in on an innings lead too, but that would place its future in the hands of the other teams — U.P. (13) and Railways (13) are both capable of overhauling its tally with outright wins of their own if Punjab doesn't taste straightforward success against a depleted Mumbai outfit at the Wankhede Stadium.
Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, faces an even stiffer test as it goes all out against group leader Karnataka, unbeaten this season, at Shimoga.
Having not registered a single win in the first six rounds, U.P. will lose out to Railways (which has recorded one victory) if the teams finish flush on points at the end of round seven.
Railways will take on Saurashtra at Delhi hoping for Punjab to lose to Mumbai. A Punjab win means curtains for Railways, but any other result would keep the latter in the hunt, its fate being determined by its own fixture.
Bringing up the rear of Group ‘A', defending champion Rajasthan (10) has a whisker of a chance of making it into the quarterfinals as it takes on Odisha (on the brink of relegation with two points) at Jaipur.
Safe and secure
In Group ‘B', Tamil Nadu (17) and Madhya Pradesh (16) play each other at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium safe in the knowledge that their places in the last eight are secure, even as four teams — barring Delhi (11) which has completed its fixtures — vie for the sole remaining spot.
Baroda (13), which plays Bengal (8) at Vadodara, needs at least a first innings lead to see itself through into the knock-out stage. A poorer result would subject it to the outcome of the Haryana (9)-Gujarat (8) game, and possibly also lend a knackered Bengal a second wind in the event. Haryana for its part would hope that Baroda emerges without a point against Bengal, and that it attains maximum mileage against Gujarat at Surat. For Gujarat and Bengal the main target would be to avoid a relegation to the Plate League in the next season.
Plate Group semifinals
Meanwhile, Hyderabad meets Vidarbha and Maharashtra faces off against Himachal Pradesh in the Plate Group semifinals. Two-time winner Hyderabad has a chance to extricate itself from the Plate Group with a good show on a Nagpur track expected to provide bounce and carry early on. Maharashtra too would hope to enter the Elite league next season as it looks to capitalise on its home advantage, at Pune, and put it across a strong Himachal batting line-up.
Keywords: Ranji Trophy