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Road to the quarter-finals: Karnataka, Mumbai, Bengal and Gujarat

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The Ranji Trophy 2017-18 Story (1:44)

A glance at some of the records set and a few exciting talents this season (1:44)

Karnataka

League Phase: WDDWWW

Knockout history

Karnataka have been among the most frequent visitors of the knockouts in the past decade. This will be their tenth appearance in the last 11 editions. They hit their peak in 2013-14, when they won the title, and successfully defended it the following year. After an aberration in 2015-16, they were back in the quarterfinals last year, but were routed inside two days by Tamil Nadu in Visakhapatnam.

Season so far

Karnataka's season has been underpinned by the manner in which they have shed their dependence on their biggest stars. With the likes of KL Rahul - who won't be available for the quarter-finals - and Manish Pandey making isolated appearances at best, their less heralded performers courageously took the mantle. Mayank Agarwal buried opponents under a mountain of runs. R Samarth seized his moment to become one of their lynchpins. Abhimanyu Mithun left opposition batsmen on shaky ground with his scorching pace. K Gowtham's evolution as an offspinner took him to the top of their wicket charts. And Shreyas Gopal proved his utility with his loopy legspin and solid lower-order runs.

The men they need to thank

Agarwal ascended unprecedented run-scoring heights, amassing over 1000 first-class runs in a single month. After opening his season with 31 against Assam and a pair against Hyderabad, Agarwal hit back with 304*, 176, 23, 90, 133*, 173 and 134. Together with Samarth, he has formed the most prolific opening pair this season. Mithun's renewed intensity has been unmissable. He has had his issues with fitness in the past, but Karnataka have found a workaround by judiciously using him in short bursts. Successive five-fors on flat surfaces against Maharashtra and Delhi showed that he wasn't a spent force yet. Along with his tall and muscular frame, sharp bounce and lively pace have made him a fearsome prospect.

Karnataka have revelled in Pandey's experience and quick runs. With 454 runs at 151.33, he has made every chance count. In four innings, Pandey has struck two centuries, including a double century, and a 74. As a result, he has shot up to third on Karnataka's run charts despite having played half the number of innings as that of the next-best Karun Nair.

Areas of concern

Karnataka's fielding has been lackluster at times. It was especially true in their second match in Shimoga. Though they picked up an outright win against Hyderabad, they dropped a few catches, with Vinay Kumar later citing difficulty in sighting the ball. They have subsequently brushed up and even managed some moments of absolute brilliance, but it has been a mixed bag.

Coach and captain speak

"We're settled in all departments now. Against an opponent like Mumbai, the best will come out of our boys. Mumbai have had their ups and downs and we need to capitalise on that. You have to plan for everybody against a side like Mumbai. We will not get overawed or overconfident."
PV Shashikanth, Karnataka coach

"It's very important to dominate the first session, but it's not a one-innings game. Five days is a lot of time for anybody to come back and we need to be very careful. It's all about being fresh and focused. It's my responsibility to make sure the team remains in the present. On the bowling front, we need to cut down those boundary balls."R Vinay Kumar, Karnataka captain

Squad: R Vinay Kumar (capt), Karun Nair, Mayank Agarwal, R Samarth, D Nischal, Stuart Binny, CM Gautam (wk), Shreyas Gopal, K Gowtham, Abhimanyu Mithun, S Aravind, Pavan Deshpande, J Suchith, M Kaunain Abbas, Sharath Srinivasan, Ronit More

by Akshay Gopalakrishnan

Mumbai

League Phase: WDDWDD (most recent first)

Knockout history:

Since 2005, Mumbai, the 41-time champions, have been in the quarter-finals every season, barring 2007-08. They have converted five of those appearances into championship wins, the last of which was the vanquishing of Saurashtra in little over two days in February 2016.

Season so far

It's been a huff-and-puff journey, to put it mildly. After four matches, five teams from the group were in the race. Andhra and Madhya Pradesh were frontrunners. Mumbai had just one outright win and were in the middle of the table, with Tamil Nadu trailing. Baroda were further down, but couldn't be ruled out. Up against the table toppers Andhra in an away game, Mumbai pocketed a crucial first-innings lead to remain in contention. They couldn't have asked for an easier game in the final round: a home match against Tripura, a side that had returned winless in five outings. Mumbai had a simple equation: win and stay in contention. They did more than that, pocketing a bonus point with a ten-wicket win, to sneak in. For the quarter-final, they will be without their batting mainstay Shreyas Iyer, who will be away on India duty. Can a new hero emerge?

The men they need to thank

Siddhesh Lad has been a crisis man, delivering consistently for the side. His numbers - 613 runs in ten innings with two hundreds and three half-centuries - become even more impressive because a majority have come batting with the lower order. His unbeaten 71 in the second innings against Baroda helped stave off an innings defeat, after the top order had caved in. He occupied the crease for over five hours and faced 238 balls, and Mumbai had three wickets standing when stumps were drawn. Then, against Andhra, he arrested a top-order slide with a knock of 86 that shored up Mumbai's total to 332, big enough for a first-innings lead. He topped it off with a century in the must-win game against Tripura.

Areas of concern

With pace spearhead Shardul Thakur ruled out due to a shoulder injury, the bowling is thin on experience. Mumbai will also be without one man who has been at the center of several recent triumphs - Abhishek Nayar, who was dropped because of poor form. At the best of times, Nayar has stood up to score vital lower-order runs or eke out crucial wickets. Now, Dhawal Kulkarni will lead a young pace attack consisting of Akash Parkar, Shivam Dubey and Sagar Trivedi; Dubey and Trivedi are yet to make their first-class debuts. Vijay Gohil is the lone specialist spinner. Fair to say the batsmen will have to do the running.

Captain speak
"There was a time when we struggled to find openers. We kept trying out five or six pairs after Wasim Jaffer moved out. That was the only puzzle in the jigsaw we were yet to find. Now, we're in a position where our first-choice and most-experienced opener Akhil Herwadkar is struggling to come back in because Prithvi Shaw and Jay Bista have established themselves." Aditya Tare on a healthy problem of plenty at the top of the order

Squad: Aditya Tare (Captain), Surya Kumar Yadav (Vice Captain), Dhawal Kulkarni, Siddhesh Lad, Jay Bista, Prithvi Shaw, Akhil Herwadkar, Sufiyan Shaikh, Akash Parkar, Karsh Kothari, Sagar Trivedi, Vijay Gohil, Shivam Malhotra, Shivam Dube and Shubham Ranjane.

by Shashank Kishore

Bengal

League phase: DWLDWD (completed matches, most recent first)

Knockout history

Since 2005, Bengal have progressed to the knockouts five times - in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2008-09, 2013-14, and 2015-16. They made the finals in 2005-06 and in the following season, but came up short on both occasions.

Season so far

Bengal had a chaotic build-up, with the state association initially unwilling to release Pragyan Ojha to play for his home state Hyderabad. After weeks of confusion, the Cricket Association of Bengal ultimately let him go on eve of the season opener. Manoj Tiwary's men, however, have brushed that off, and scrapped their way to the final eight with two wins in six matches.

The new-ball pair of Ashok Dinda and Mohammed Shami and opening batsmen Abhishek Raman and Abhimanyu Easwaran have led the resurgence. Raman, who had played only two first-class games before this season, has rewarded the management's faith with 549 runs in 10 innings. They've also benefited from Wriddhiman Saha's presence in the first half of the season. Nineteen-year-old medium-pacer Ishan Porel - who was picked in India's Under-19 World Cup squad - has impressed in the two matches he's played. His form bodes well, given they won't have Shami's services for the remainder of the season because of national duty.

The men they need to thank

Dinda and Shami account for 48 of the 98 wickets Bengal bowlers have picked up. The two quicks produced the visual moment of the season when they had nine slips in place in the dying moments of Bengal's bonus-point victory over Chhattisgarh in Raipur. After Shami joined the India squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka, Dinda took up the extra load and prodded the side into the knockouts with a five-wicket haul against Goa.

The area(s) of concern

Ojha's departure has punched holes in the spin attack. Aamir Gani, the offspinner, has managed only 12 wickets at 41.50 while medium-pacers B Amit and Koushik Ghosh haven't done enough to ease the pressure off Dinda. Porel's availability for the quarter-final, after which he'll be joining the Under-19 camp, is significant because of this.

Captain speak

"I always believed we will qualify for the knockouts. While I cannot disagree to the fact that there have been slip-ups from our end, I feel that we will have to give emphasis on our fielding and develop for the knockouts. In addition to that, I feel that the bowlers who are bowling alongside Dinda need to do better as we cannot afford mistakes in the knockouts. The team will definitely look into this."
Manoj Tiwary

Squad: Manoj Tiwary (capt), Sudip Chatterjee, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Anustup Majumdar, Abhishek Raman, Amir Gani, Pradipta Pramanik, Ashok Dinda, Ishan Porel, Mukesh Kumar, Kanishk Seth, B Amit, Ritwik Chowdhury, Saurabh Singh, Writtick Chatterjee

by Deivarayan Muthu

Gujarat

League phase: WWDWWW (completed matches, most recent first)

Knockout history

Since 2005, Gujarat have made the knockouts thrice - in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2016-17. They wrested their maiden Ranji Trophy title last season on the back of a sublime 143 from captain Parthiv Patel.

Season so far

Gujarat amassed 34 points - the most by any team in the league phase this season - with five wins and draw. In the absence of premier bowlers Jasprit Bumrah - who hasn't featured since their semi-final win last year mainly because of a packed international calendar - Axar Patel and Rush Kalaria, who is nursing a shoulder injury, Gujarat's rejigged attack has stepped up, taking 20 wickets in five of their six games.

The spinners - veteran legspinner Piyush Chawla has benefitted from bowling on red-soil tracks with bounce, and 17-year-old left-arm spinner Siddharth Desai - have led the way. They've been complemented well by medium-pacers Chintan Gaja, who claimed a career-best 8 for 40 against Rajasthan, and debutant Kamlesh Thakor, who helped them secure a bonus-point win over Jharkhand to seal a knockouts berth.

The men they need to thank

No Axar, no problem. Desai has grabbed 28 wickets and two Man-of-the-match awards in four matches while Chawla has three wickets more than Desai at an average of 17.51. Having started shakily, last season's top-scorer Priyank Panchal has peaked heading into the quarter-finals: he has hit 538 runs in nine innings at 67.25

The area of concern

It might not be a major worry but Parthiv has 313 runs in eight innings - of which 173 came against Rajasthan. He had five double-digit scores but failed to convert the starts. There's no better time than now to hit big runs and carry the confidence to South Africa, where he'll be India's second wicketkeeper on tour.

Coach speak

"We are [the] defending champions but there is no pressure on us. In 2014-15 we won the T20 tournament, in 2015-16 we won the Vijay Hazare Trophy, last season we won the Ranji Trophy. The boys have realised their full potential. Parthiv has led them brilliantly. We did not have Axar this year, but there was this young boy Desai with a lovely high-arm action - he has nearly 30 wickets and that is something great. Even in batting we have everybody scoring. We are not dependent on one individual and confident in the knockouts."
Vijay Patel, Gujarat coach

Squad: Parthiv Patel (capt & wk), Rujul Bhatt, Samit Gohel, Manprit Juneja, Chirag Gandhi, Dhruv Raval, Mehul Patel, Priyank Panchal, Piyush Chawla, Hardik Patel, Bhargav Merai, Ishwar Chaudhary, Chintan Gaja, Kamlesh Thakor, Siddharth Desai

by Deivarayan Muthu