Haryana hope it's third time lucky
Despite making the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals three years in a row, Haryana aren't considered among the stronger teams in the competition. One of the main reasons for that is they don't dominate the league phase to progress, but are more likely to squeeze through by securing the final qualification place.
This year they almost left it too late. Entering their final league match against Gujarat, they were in fifth place and even an outright victory wouldn't have guaranteed their place in the quarters. They then proceeded to concede the first-innings lead to Gujarat, before finally turning things around - first with a solid batting effort and then rolling over Gujarat for 160, the lowest they have bowled out an opposition all season.
The comeback win pushed Haryana a point above Baroda, who lost their final match against Bengal and with it a seemingly nailed-on place in the quarters. Haryana captain Amit Mishra says even midway through that Gujarat game, the belief was high in the squad. "We knew all our bowlers were performing well," he told ESPNcricinfo. "If we batted well in the second innings, we knew we had a chance."
Making things even more challenging this season for Haryana were the large-scale changes to the side - astonishingly, they fielded five debutants in their opening Ranji game. The experienced professional, Hemang Badani, was left out for this campaign, and an accident to Joginder Sharma in November meant Mishra was the only well-known player in the squad.
In addition to the responsibility of guiding this new-look team, Mishra also had to bounce back from the lows of the miserable tour of England which has, at least temporarily, halted his international career. "I was really disappointed to be left out of the Indian team. I just wanted to perform, whether it was for Haryana, or my company team or my club team," he said. "I was trying to improve all aspects of my game, whether it was the bowling, the fitness or the batting."
After bowing out to two of the more highly rated teams in the domestic circuit in the previous two years - Mumbai in 2010-11, and Tamil Nadu last season - Haryana are up against another of the heavyweights, Karnataka, in the quarter-finals this time. Mishra, though, remained upbeat about Haryana's chances of progressing further in the competition. "It is a big game for us, even more so for some of the younger players in the team," he said. "When you reach this stage of the competition, you expect to play quality teams. We are confident of our abilities, and the main thing is being able to adapt quickly to the conditions."
Karnataka are also not at full strength as they are missing the trio of fast bowlers -Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun are in Australia with the Indian national team, and S Aravind is out with an injury - who were the bedrock of their formidable recent domestic record.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo