Services unfazed by formidable UP
Match factsJanuary 6-10, 2012
Start time 0930 (0400 GMT)
Men in uniform do not like to leave anything to chance but Wing Commander Deepak Bhaskar, the Services manager, knows his side needs all the luck it can get. Services are up against a team so formidable it can afford to go without the services of several India players, for it still has another three of them, and a bunch of other solid performers. Punjab, with all their early-season dominance, may have grabbed the headlines, but Uttar Pradesh also racked up four outright wins in the group stage, the same as Punjab. UP are also one of only two unbeaten sides among the quarter-finalists, Mumbai being the other.
Services have toiled their way up from Group C with five draws and wins over Jammu & Kashmir and Assam but have a look at the kind of opposition UP have tamed. A Delhi side that had Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand, Ishant Sharma and Ashish Nehra. Batting powerhouses Tamil Nadu managed 179 and 225 against UP, at home in Chennai.
But men in uniform do not care about reputation and history. "What is a star player?" said Soumik Chatterjee, the 24-year old Services captain from Howrah, who can easily pass off as a student from a Kolkata college. "If you perform on a given day, you are a star then. If you cannot perform, how are you a star?" Chatterjee said, when asked about the big players in the UP team.
UP are definitely ahead on quality of players and big-match experience but facing up to adversity is second nature for Services, not only as part of their jobs in the Army, Navy and Air Force but also in cricketing terms. They can't afford the range of facilities and support staff the state associations can with BCCI money, though the pitch and outfield at their home ground at Palam in Delhi have recently been upgraded with support from the board.
Here's another example of the ways in which the departmental sides Services and Railways operate. The visiting England team are playing India A at Palam in a practice one-dayer on Sunday, and the Services coach is at the ground helping to organise the match. He is expected to reach Indore well after the start of the quarter-final, but Bhaskar made sure Services were not lacking, keeping a close eye on their nets and helping out with slip catching practice. Despite Bhaskar's efforts, though, it will be an achievement for Services to take this quarter-final into fifth day.
In the spotlight
This is the only neutral venue for the quarter-finals, the match having been shifted from Palam to Indore because of the England practice game. The Indore pitch has steadily acquired a reputation of being one of the most sporting ones in the country. While most of its bite used to last a day, that is no longer the case, according to locals. Samunder Singh Chouhan, the man behind the belters on which ODI cricket's two double-centuries were scored, is a curator who loves grass when it comes to first-class cricket.
The Duleep Trophy final here in February 2012 lasted two-and-a-half days and Mohammad Kaif, leading UP in Suresh Raina's absence, recalled how there had been help for the bowlers throughout that game. Two of this Ranji season's three games at the Holkar Stadium yielded results, and Madhya Pradesh barely avoided losing the third. One had to squint to be able to make out the pitch this morning from the rest of the green square before the crease markings were made. It being a neutral venue - though UP do belong to the same zone as MP - Chouhan is under no pressure to shave off the grass.
The Services batsmen will be up against the Uttar Pradesh fast bowlers, who will be led by the strongly-built Imtiaz Ahmed, who has had a breakthrough season with 34 wickets. Services' veteran Yashpal Singh and young Rajat Paliwal, with 724 and 629 runs in the season, will be looked upon to deliver again.
Uttar Pradesh: Tanmay Srivastava, Mukul Dagar, Mohammad Kaif (capt), Parvinder Singh, Prashant Gupta, Arish Alam, Amir Khan (wk), Ali Murtaza, Umang Sharma, Ankit Rajpoot, Imtiaz Ahmed, Sudeep Tyagi, Praveen Gupta, Amit Singh, Eklavya Dwivedi, Piyush Chawla
Services: Soumik Chatterjee (capt), Pratik Desai, Anshul Gupta, Yashpal Singh, Soumya Swain, Rajat Paliwal, Sarabjit Singh (wk), Penta Rao, Suraj Yadav, Nishan Singh, Shadab Nazar, Muzzaffaruddin Khalid, Avishek Sinha, Shakti Malviya, Nakul Verma
Stats and trivia
- The only time Uttar Pradesh came up against Services in the Ranji Trophy was in 2005-06. They went on to win their maiden title while the latter were sent back to the Plate League.
- The last occasion the two-time Ranji finalists Services progressed beyond the league stage, they lost the Plate final to Haryana in 2004-05.
- Mohammad Kaif needs 27 more to reach 9000 first-class runs
Quotes"It is a good decision by the board. Five days make a huge difference. If one team does not play well in the first innings, it has the chance to come back in the second innings. In a four-day game on a flat track, once you get the first-innings lead, the last day-and-a-half is very boring, for spectators and for us." Kaif on the introduction of five-day knockout games
"We wanted to reach this stage when we started preparing for the season in May and we have done so." Bhaskar is not surprised Services have made it to the quarter-finals
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo