Jharkhand face stiff test against Punjab
Match factsJanuary 6-10, 2012
Start time 0900 (0330 GMT)
The Steel City is still mourning the retirement of Ratan Tata, its most beloved personality. But at the Keenan Stadium, traditional home of cricket in Bihar and now Jharkhand, it is time to move on as a crunch Ranji Trophy match is at hand. With the young bunch from Jharkhand having surprised many by making it to the quarter-finals, it's time for them to rise up to the occasion against a star-studded Punjab line-up.
Shahbaz Nadeem, the Jharkhand skipper, tried his best to underplay the star factor. "If you see, barring Harbhajan Singh, a great spinner, there aren't many big names in the Punjab line-up," Nadeem, the most successful spinner this season, said. "And even our squad has three-four players who have experienced the big stage by being part of the IPL, so that shouldn't be a big factor."
In fact, barring the experience of Harbhajan, both the line-ups are full of youngsters. As a result, the team that shows nerves of steel over the next five days will proceed to the next stage. However, Punjab have the edge when it comes to making requisite adjustments from four-day games to five-day matches. "Hardly any of us have played a five-day game, but we are up for it," Nadeem admits. With the Keenan pitch appearing dry, it won't be a surprise if the match doesn't last five days.
While Jharkhand qualified for the knockouts with an outright victory against Group C table-toppers Services on the New Year's Day, Punjab seemed to have lost the fizz towards the end of the league stage. However, a fortnight's break seems to have done Punjab a world of good. "When you play eight consecutive matches with just three days in between, that too with all the travelling, the players were bound to be jaded towards the end of the league stage. So the last two weeks have helped them recover are we are ready to roll again," Punjab coach-cum-manager Arun Sharma said.
The fact that Punjab were the first team to seal a spot in the quarters - with three matches remaining, shows the kind of form they have been in. And with most of their matches producing outright results, don't expect a dull game at the Keenan over the next five days.
In the spotlight
Despite being the preferred home venue for the last three decades, Jharkhand haven't enjoyed the Keenan experience this season. While they lost to Assam here in November, in the next round, they saw Goa hanging on for a hard-fought draw after being made to follow on.
The two men who will hold the key for Jharkhand's fortunes are captain Nadeem and left-handed batsman Saurabh Tiwary. While Nadeem will be competing with Punjab's new-ball bowler Sandeep Sharma in the race for the highest wicket-taker of the season, Tiwary will be hoping to anchor their innings as he has done for a better part of the season. With Ishank Jaggi also coming good from time to time, Punjab bowlers would expect resistance.
For the visitors, Harbhajan Singh will be gunning to make his mark by picking a big match-haul, something that he has failed to do thus far. Jiwanjot Singh, the opener who has stolen the limelight in his debut season, will be keen to regain the momentum that he seemed to have lost towards the end of the league stage.
Jharkhand: Shahbaz Nadeem (capt), Akash Verma, Saurabh Tiwary, Ishank Jaggi, Rameez Nemat, Shiv Gautam (wk), Ajatshatru Singh, Samar Quadri, SS Rao, Ajay Yadav, Manish Vardhan, Ashish Kumar, Sunny Gupta, Kumar Deobrat, Jaskaran Singh.
Punjab: Jiwanjot Singh, Ravi Inder Singh, Taruwar Kohli, Mandeep Singh, Uday Kaul (wk), Gurkeerat Singh, Amitoze Singh, Harbhajan Singh (capt), Siddharth Kaul, Manpreet Gony, Sarabjit Ladda, Bipul Sharma, Karan Goel, Rajwinder Singh, Sandeep Sharma.
Stats and trivia
- This would be the first time Punjab and Jharkhand play each other, though Punjab have played Bihar twice. This would be Jharkhand's first quarter-final appearance since 2001 when they lost to Haryana.
- Sandeep Sharma, the Punjab seamer, and Jharkhand left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem are close behind Ishwar Pandey's season-haul of 48 wickets. While Sharma has 41 wickets this season, Nadeem has 40.
"At the start of the season, our team goal was to go one step further than last year's performance. Not that we have achieved it, we have revised the goal to go one step further than the quarter-finals. Let's hope we can achieve that too." Shahbaz Nadeem displays his team-building skills
"The form over the last two games doesn't bother us. What matters the most is how we turn up tomorrow." Arun Sharma looks ahead to the quarter-finals
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.