The stage is all set for a skirmish in the Ranji Trophy Plate league semifinals from Wednesday.

The victors will proceed to the knock-out for an extended season and earn the right to be treated as an Elite team in the next season.

Hyderabad, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Vidarbha have done their bit over a period of one and a half months and await a fresh challenge.

Vidarbha, After nearly 10 years, has progressed to the Plate league semifinals and with three professionals in its ranks senses a possibility of an entry into the knock-out.

Pressure will be upon the players to make the semifinal count in order to take the big leap over four days at Jamtha village at Nagpur and the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium at Gahunje village in the outskirts of Pune.

A chance to compete with the Elite League teams from the quarterfinal onwards and be in the running for the title is the biggest incentive for the players. Rajasthan stunned all last season, starting from the Plate league and winning the title for the first time.

Maharashtra led by a 21-year-old Rohit Motwani, has been the most convincing winning three matches against Hyderabad, Jharkhand and Assam.

It began the season securing three points against Goa which did not chase 130 from a possible 19 overs in the fourth innings because of a poor decision by Swapnil Asnodkar to call off the match.

Coached, for the fourth year by Australian Shaun Williams, Maharashtra has largely placed its faith in youth.

Ankit Bawne (19), Chirag Khurana (19), Kedar Jadhav (26), Motwani (21), Sangram Atitkar (23), Nikhil Paradkar (24) and Harshad Khadiwale (23) share responsibility to put runs on the board for left-arm seamer Samad Fallah (26) and left-arm spinner Akshya Darekar (23) to take 54 wickets together.

The find of the season for Maharashtra has been opening batsman Khurana who has scored 304 runs in three matches and Darekar who has taken 31 wickets at 16.03. Maharashtra will lock horns with Himachal Pradesh. The North Zone team on most occasions has been very efficient with the ball and this is amply reflected in the wickets taken by 21-year-old Rishi Dhawan (27 wkts. at 26.96) and Vikramjit Singh Malil (17 at 27.23). Rookie off-spinner Gurvinder Singh has taken 16 wickets. Dhawan has also scored 296 runs which makes him a credible all-rounder; in fact HP has used him as a seamer only in the last two years.

Remarkable comeback

It's been a story of a remarkable comeback by Hyderabad, especially after being beaten hollow at home by Maharashtra. Akshath Reddy, 20, has been in top form with 509 runs (3x100s and 2x50s) and he has been supported by T. Suman, S.A Quadri, B.P. Sandeep and Ravi Teja.

Leftarm seamer Anwar Ahmed and left-arm spinner Lalit Mohan have been among wickets. A world record performance by wicket-keeper Ibrahim Khaleel (14 victims against Assam) was another highlight for Hyderabad in the league. Former Mumbai all-rounder Sairaj Bahutule leads Vidarbha's batting average scoring 369 at 184.50. He's followed by Ranjit Paradkar (487 at 121.75), Hemang Badani (221 at 55.25).

Others who have scored runs are Shalabh Shrivastava (225), Aniruddha Chore (218) and Shiv Sunder Das (210).

Seamers Sandeep Singh (18 wkts. at 18.55) and Shrikant Wagh (18 at 33.00) and Amol Jungade (15 at 26.00) have taken 51 of 73 wickets Vidarbha has taken in five matches.

Two of these teams will replace Orissa and another team in the Elite group next season.

Keywords: Ranji Trophy

More In: Cricket | Sport