Plate entrants bank on home advantage
Assam v Uttar Pradeshin Guwahati
UP are just one match short of a third straight semi-final appearance in the Ranji Trophy, but they wouldn't want to take Assam lightly. While another appearance in the knockout rounds points towards consistency, UP have been anything but that this season. To start off with, they were clobbered by an innings at home by Group B leaders and potential semi-final opponents, Karnataka. They struggled to drive home the first-innings advantage against Saurashtra, and conceded the lead to Maharashtra, who eventually got relegated. Their two outright wins, against Bengal and by an innings against co-qualifiers Delhi, went a long way in ensuring thoer passage to the quarters. UP's strength lies in their bowling: only Karnataka have taken more wickets than their tally of 107.
Like UP, Assam got off to a poor start, with an outright loss against Rajasthan. But led by two of their imports, Dheeraj Jadhav and Sairaj Bahutule, they staged a comeback in the tournament, beating Tripura by an innings, and then Andhra outright in the semi-final. Both the wins came in Guwahati, and therein lies Assam's opportunity: catching the opposition off guard on home turf.
Players to watch out for
Parvinder Singh, who scored his maiden first-class century in the semi-final last year, has been UP's most consistent batsman this year, scoring three centuries in six matches and 502 runs at 50.2.
Piyush Chawla, who finds himself out of favour with India set-up, gets more chances of putting his case forward. So far he has been UP's highest wicket-taker, with 24 wickets at 24.25.
In the plate league semi-final, Jadhav carried his bat through in the first innings, and then saw them safely through a tricky chase too. With 603 runs, he is second on the list of run-getters in the Plate League.
Bahutule's 25 wickets at 18.48 have been key to Assam's progress so far, and they will hope similar performances from both Bahutule and Jadhav if they are to pull off an upset.
Delhi v Tamil Naduin Delhi
Tamil Nadu's success formula so far has been: whatever happens, don't concede a first-innings lead. In seven matches, they scored more runs than any other team - securing the lead five times - and that alone would have been enough to see them through to the knockouts. But they also registered two outright wins to top their group. Outright wins could just be out of equation in Delhi, with the cold weather, fog and bad light threatening to reduce the hours of play.
Delhi, champions from two years ago, who just scraped through to the quarters, have received ordinary news in the lead-up to the match. Sreesanth's illness has resulted in Ishant Sharma's call-up to the Indian squad, and Yuvraj Singh's injury means Virat Kohli can't be released for this match either. The saving grace for them is the return of Aakash Chopra, Mithun Manhas and Shikhar Dhawan. Because of the ODI in Delhi on December 27, the Palam Stadium on the outskirts will be the unlikely setting for this quarterfinal.
Players to watch out for
C Ganapathy has been Tamil Nadu's surprise star: apart from taking 18 wickets at 21.16, he has scored 502 runs in the lower order, averaging 83.66 per innings.
Rajat Bhatia, one of the best allrounders on the domestic circuit and now the team's captain, hasn't had a great season so far. Delhi won't mind a return to form of the captain.
Haryana v Mumbaiin Rohtak
Mumbai have struggled to take second-innings wickets this season, and hence have just one outright victory, but it has been even more difficult for the opposition to get the Mumbai batsmen out. In seven matches they have lost only 60 wickets: Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane have been in usual prolific form, Rohit Sharma has started turning in the big innings, and Sahil Kukreja is fitting well into the opener's role. But things haven't looked that bright in the bowling department: Dhawal Kulkarni and Ajit Agarkar have struggled for 28 wickets between them, at a cost of 1010 runs.
Haryana were the clear frontrunners in their qualifying group. They beat Kerala and Andhra outright, and never conceded a lead in other matches. Their No. 3 Sunny Singh is the highest run-getter in the Plate League, and their left-arm medium-pace Sanjay Budhwar did well for 20 wickets at 23.05. And when relieved of India duties, Amit Mishra changed the equation with 11 wickets at 11.63. But they know they face formidable opponents in the quarter-final, and will need every aspect to come together for an unlikely upset.
Players to watch out for
Rohit has played a big landmark innings of his career, a first-class triple-century, a knock he rated as the best of his career so far. If he can carry forward his from, Haryana are in for a long dig.
Jaffer knows he is not in contention for the India opener's role, but that hasn't doused his hunger for runs. He continues to be among the top scorers in the competition, and Haryana won't want to let him settle at the crease.
Before Rohit scored that triple, Sunny had made one in Haryana's first match of the season. He followed it up with two more centuries, averaged 88 and led the Plate batting charts. It will be interesting to see how he does against the big boys.
Mishra will still be smarting from the drop in the Kanpur Test. After weeks and weeks of travelling with the national ODI side and not a single game, he was shown the door after one ordinary Test. If he can put Mumbai in trouble, the selectors will be forced to take notice.