Pitch the focus in Rajkot semi-final
Match factsJanuary 16-20, 2013
Start time 0930 (0400 GMT)
As the Ranji Trophy nears its climax, the very mention of one of the semi-finals being staged in Rajkot may not evoke much excitement. Punjab and Saurashtra will be hoping that the 22-yard strip will not live up to its reputation of being a batsman's paradise. But they might be hoping against hope, as the match is going to be on the same pitch that produced a run-fest during India's ODI against England last week, also the first international at the Khandheri Cricket Stadium.
The new home of Saurashtra cricket has been staging Ranji games for five seasons. In 12 games so far, there have been 24 centuries, including two triple-centuries and five double-centuries. Still, Saurashtra will be hoping for a wicket that won't overwhelmingly favour the batsmen. That's understandable, since they are without the services of their two run machines, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom are in India's squad for the ODI series against England.
The Saurashtra line-up looks brittle without the duo. No wonder then that the captain, Jaydev Shah, was left to draw inspiration from the surprise results produced by the underdogs over the last three seasons. "Cricket is a game of surprises. No-one thought Services would beat Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan weren't expected to win consecutive Ranji Trophy titles. We need to start well, everyone has to work as a team," Shah said.
Punjab, despite being the favourites, had a few worries on the eve of the match. Two of their three key pace bowlers through the season, Manpreet Gony and Sandeep Sharma, were down with viral fever and were confined to their hotel rooms. Though the captain, Harbhajan Singh, hoped they would recover in time, the Punjab team management has called up Baltej Singh as cover.
In the spotlight
Despite the presence of a plethora of consistent performers on the domestic circuit, it's the pitch that will attract the most attention. Dhiraj Parsana, a member of the BCCI's expanded Pitch and Ground Committee, has been overlooking the preparations for the last two weeks. The chairman of the committee, Daljit Singh, hopped over to Rajkot on Monday for "last-minute instructions".
Probably the best chance of producing an outright win would be to offer an underprepared wicket, just so that this semi-final doesn't end up going the same way as three of the four quarter-finals, which were decided on the basis of the first-innings lead.
Saurashtra: Jaydev Shah (capt), Shitanshu Kotak, Sheldon Jackson (wk), Rahul Dave, Aarpit Vasavada, Chirag Jani, Kamlesh Makwana, Vishal Joshi, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Jaydev Unadkat, Sagar Jogiyani (wk), Sandip Maniar, Siddarth Trivedi, Saurya Sanandiya, Chirag Pathak, Harsh Anghan
Punjab: Harbhajan Singh (capt), Jiwanjot Singh, Ravi Inder Singh, Taruwar Kohli, Mandeep Singh, Uday Kaul (wk), Gurkeerat Singh, Amitoze Singh, Siddarth Kaul, Manpreet Gony, Sarabjit Ladda, Bipul Sharma, Karan Goel, Rajwinder Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Baltej Singh
Stats and trivia
- In the earlier match between the two teams this season, Punjab beat Saurashtra by eight wickets on a green top in Mohali.
- Punjab opener Jiwanjot Singh is 28 runs short of becoming the highest run-getter of the season. Jiwanjot, with 916 runs, trails Karnataka wicketkeeper-batsman CM Gautam's tally of 943 runs.
- Shitanshu Kotak, the domestic stalwart, needs 18 runs to go up to the sixth position in the list of highest run-getters in the Ranji Trophy history. Kotak, with 7,421 runs, is behind Amol Muzumdar (9105), Wasim Jaffer (9008), Hrishikesh Kanitkar (7885), Amarjeet Kaypee (7623), Pankaj Dharmani (7621) and Ajay Sharma (7438).
Quotes"How do you think a Rajkot wicket will be? Haven't played here, but it looks like a good flat wicket, full of runs."
Harbhajan Singh expects hard work for the bowlers
"We would have been boosted by their presence but we have to learn to play without Jadeja and Pujara. They're on national duty which is obviously great signs for Saurashtra cricket, but the youngsters are ready to step up. We're ready for this game. Obviously both have scored triple-hundreds, Jadeja has also taken many wickets for us."
Jaydev Shah underlines the absence of two formidable Saurashtra stars
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.