Hopefuls take on the usual suspects
Tamil Nadu v Haryana at Rohtak
This could be a tricky encounter. If you haven't followed this season, Tamil Nadu, with its better history in Ranji Trophy, might seem to be overwhelming favourites but it is likely to be a well-fought game. For starters, it's a home game for Haryana and the pitch will be seamer-friendly. Tamil Nadu have not played on such tracks this season while Haryana have spent their entire time on similar pitches. L Balaji is the only Tamil Nadu seamer who has taken ten wickets and they have depended on the spin twins R Ashwin and Aushik Srinivas. "The ball will move around and our seamers, led by Joginder Singh, are in form," Ashwini Kumar, the Haryana coach, said. "It should be a very interesting game. Both teams have a few big players; they have been in couple of finals this decade while we have re-entered Super League last year but the conditions and our present form gives us confidence." One of the chief concerns for Tamil Nadu is the form of their captain Dinesh Karthik who has made only 115 runs from seven games. Much will depend on how the in-form batsmen S Badrinath (734 runs) and Abhinav Mukund (539) perform.
Railways v Baroda at Vadodara
After five rounds, if you would have asked Baroda coach Mukesh Narula who his quarter-final opponents would be, Railways would have been the last name on his mind. Yet, now they face the Sanjay Bangar-led side that has orchestrated the great escape, winning its last two games outright to storm into the knockouts from sixth position in Group A. The momentum is certainly with the visitors, but a Baroda team that has won three games by an innings this season will prove to be strong opponents on home turf. While former India allrounder JP Yadav has had a fairytale comeback from the ICL, leading the wicket charts with 30 victims, 20-year old Baroda left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt is only one wicket behind Yadav. Ambati Rayudu and veteran Connor Williams have led the batting effort for Baroda, while Railways have been bolstered by the ever-present Bangar. The presence of Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel gives Baroda the upper hand.
Yadav has bowled marathon spells with his seamers, but Narula reckoned it would be tough bowling long and tight spells on a ground where the outfield is quick, and batsmen can take you for runs. Abhay Sharma, the Railways coach, said the wicket looked hard, but there was not much grass on it. "It will definitely move around in the first session," Abhay said. Railways certainly won't be going in with three spinners as they did for their previous game against Bengal. Murali Kartik had a slight niggle, but would be playing, Abhay said. "It should be a pretty even match, but we have the home advantage," Narula said.
Karnataka v Madhya Pradesh at Indore
It's another game where the seamers are expected to play a big role. Bundela, Madhya Pradesh's captain, believes that Karnataka will start as favourites but it won't be a one-sided encounter. It could get particularly interesting if MP win the toss and bowl first. Karnataka's top order has been a bit brittle against the moving ball this season and more often than not, the lower order have bailed them out in the first innings. "Our top order is a concern but they were up against seaming conditions," Sanath Kumar, Karnataka's coach said. "It's not as if they are in bad form; they scored heavily in the second innings of the last game." Karnataka has an incisive seam attack in Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, and S Aravind and Sunil Joshi's hunger for wickets hasn't satiated yet. You get the feeling that Karnataka has enough arsenal to see this one through.
Mumbai v Rajasthan at Jaipur
On paper it should be a no contest. Mumbai have won the Ranji Trophy 39 times while Rajasthan, who have had a memorable run this year, were placed at the bottom of the Plate league last season. Mumbai have a well-balanced team: They have in-form batsmen in Wasim Jaffer, Rohit Sharma, and Ajinkya Rahane and a seasoned bowling attack in Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, and Dhawal Kulkarni. Iqbal Abdulla, the young left-arm spinner, has grabbed 25 wickets and scored 376 runs. Rajasthan have to play out of their skins to trouble Mumbai. "You don't even want to entertain the thought of losing," Aakash Chopra, who hit a triple hundred in the last game to propel Rajasthan into the knockouts, said. Rajasthan's batting is pretty solid: apart from the three experienced professionals, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Rashmi Parida, and Chopra, they have Vineet Saxena, Robin Bist and Vaibhav Deshpande. The bowling too has impressed this season. "Deepak Chahar (30 wickets) and Pankaj Singh (33) have taken more wickets than any other bowler in the country, even including the Super League, "says Chopra. There is a sprinkling of grass on the pitch and Chopra reckons there will be some help to the seamers initially.