The watery comeback and Delhi's second homecoming
The match of the season
Two Plate teams were in a desperate situation in Nagpur. Services, for whom a win meant a greater chance of qualifying for the Super League, were a bit more desperate than Vidarbha. A draw wouldn't have done. So despite pocketing three points after taking the first-innings lead, Services did what 9 out of 10 domestic sides would usually not have done - made a sporting declaration on the third evening. Vidarbha needed 353 in 93 overs. They had made 289, 61, 138 and 139 for 8 in their previous four outings. "It was a good target to set. Anything more and Vidarbha might not have gone for the chase," Bhaskar, the Services coach, told ESPNcricinfo. And go for the chase Vidarbha did. The middle order made vital contributions, and the lower order refused to give up. The ninth wicket fell with 23 required from three overs, but Vidarbha wicketkeeper Amol Ubarhande took the game to the wire. With three needed off two deliveries, Ubarhande was stumped for 39. Services went into second position behind Maharashtra who they now face in their last game. "Our gamble worked, we wouldn't have achieved much by targeting three points," Bhaskar said. "Though such close games get too tense for the players, the team gels well when you win them."
The watery comeback
This has been a topsy-turvy season for Bengal. They took the first-innings lead against Delhi and Gujarat at away venues, while Eden Gardens brought them down to earth with single-point returns in two home games. In between, almost half the squad succumbed to assorted illnesses during the match against Gujarat in Ahmedabad, and one of the replacements flown in had just recovered from viral fever. Amidst all this, that prince among Kolkata's men, Sourav Ganguly, announced that he was ready for yet another go at the Ranji Trophy, "to keep myself in form for the IPL." As Sourav proposes, so Bengal accepts, and the former India captain was included in the XI against Tamil Nadu in Chennai. "Our batting will receive a huge boost with the presence of Sourav… Also I can get his tips regarding the captaincy," Manoj Tiwary, the Bengal captain, told the Telegraph. Four days later, Tiwary must have received some tips, but Bengal were still awaiting the batting boost, and Sourav was still to find out how his form was. The Chennai monsoon allowed only 43 overs in the match, in which Tamil Nadu reached 132 for 4.
'Homing' in on the advantage
Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the top two teams in Group A of the Plate League, have been using home advantage to the hilt, dishing out seaming tracks against the weaker batting line-ups in their group. Both teams have had two big wins, and all but one of the 80 opposition wickets in those games have fallen to seamers. Rajasthan's game against Tripura lasted 134.1 overs. On either side of being bowled out for 150, Rajasthan's seamers led by Pankaj Singh finished off Tripura for 95 and 55. Hyderabad had fared even worse, getting shot out for 21 and 126. MP thrashed both Tripura and Jharkhand by an innings inside three days. The theme gets clear when one looks at the 942 runs Rajasthan and MP scored for the loss of 15 wickets in their drawn game in Jaipur. It becomes clearer when both sides drew their games with third-placed Goa, who are the only other team in the group to remain undefeated.
Leaders of the pack
Instrumental in Rajasthan's charge on helpful wickets has been their lead fast bowler Pankaj, who heads the wicket-taking list in the Plate League with 27 victims in four games at 12.62. Fourteen of those came in the huge victory against Tripura, 8 for 32 followed by 6 for 20. Not far behind is Deepak Chahar, the seamer who had a memorable debut against Hyderabad, with 20 wickets at 19.90.
Delhi's second homecoming
The Feroz Shah Kotla has been anything but a happy hunting ground for hosts Delhi this season. After Bengal surprised them to the first-innings lead in the opening encounter, Rohit Dahiya blocked for 2 runs off 109 balls to help Gujarat cling on to a draw by one wicket. Having had enough of the unresponsive Kotla, Delhi shifted base to the Roshanara Club Ground, and the change brought instant and pleasing results against Assam. On a wicket that offered considerable help for the fast bowlers, captain Mithun Manhas led the way with his 18th first-class hundred, and young left-arm seamer Pawan Suyal took a career-best ten wickets to go second on the Super League wicket-takers list with 21 victims. Delhi eased to a comfortable victory, their first outright win in five games. Er, could they replay Bengal and Gujarat at the Roshanara?
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo