Uttar Pradesh, charged by young talent inspired under the leadership of Mohammad Kaif, have fought their way back from a poor start to their Ranji Trophy campaign. Two losses and two draws prior to Kaif joining the side made way for impressive wins against good opposition and a surge to the second spot in the Elite Group B points table. Kaif's undoubted leadership and batting prowess aside, solid performances from the likes of Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar and Gyanendra Pandey have been a key feature to UP making it to the final doorstep. On the eve of the final, Cricinfo takes a look at UP's progress over the 2005-06 season.

Suresh Raina's hard work paid rich dividends for Uttar Pradesh this season © Getty Images
Uttar Pradesh 310 and 104 (Joginder 5-47, Rana 5-34) lost to Haryana 277 (Joginder 67, Kumar 5-93) and 177 by 41 runs

Uttar Pradesh started their campaign in a disastrous fashion losing to newly-promoted Haryana. Having to chase a mere 145 runs in their second innings, the UP batsmen crumbled against the medium pace of Joginder Sharma and Sachin Rana. Both Sharma and Rana grabbed five wickets apiece and shot out UP for 104. Earlier, after Jyoti Prasad Yadav, the captain, chose to field first at the Green Park Stadium, Uttar Pradesh - led by a five-wicket haul from Praveen Kumar, the 20-year old allrounder- restricted Haryana to 277. Haryana attacked through a four-wicket haul from Joginder Sharma but half-centuries from Shiva Shukla, Gyanendra Pandey and Rizwan Shamshad propelled UP to a 33-run first innings lead. UP then hit Haryana hard through four-wicket hauls from Ashish Winston Zaidi (4 for 61)and Praveen Kumar (4 for 55) to bowl them out for 145 before the batsmen succumbed to the pressure of chasing a final-innings target.

Uttar Pradesh 346 (Prakash 71, Raina 75) and 166 lost to Baroda 605 (Martin 251, Williams 138, Chawla 5-202) by an innings and 93runs

If pressure of chasing killed them against Haryana, UP were never in the contest in their second round game against Baroda. After UP put up 346, thanks to half centuries from Suresh Raina and Rohit Prakash, Jacob Martin led from the front, scoring an unbeaten 251, his 23rd first-class century, and Connor Williams hit 138 to take Baroda to a mammoth 605, gaining a 259 first-innings lead. Martin's was a stellar effort as Baroda firmly wrapped their fists around a hapless bowling effort that dented the UP psyche that reflected when the hosts came out to bat again. Not one batsman touched the 40-mark as UP collapsed on the final day and gave Baroda an outright victory.

Services 321(Sarabjit Singh 67, Yashpal 65, Chawla 5-106) and 161 for 9 (Jasvir Singh 56) drew with Uttar Pradesh 436 (Shamshad 110, Pandey 69*, Shukla 65)

Piyush Chawla, the 17-year old legspinner, grabbed a seven-wicket haul and Rizwan Shamshad hit a century to ensure that UP picked their first points of the season, albeit just 2 from a drawn encounter, against Services. Half-centuries from Yashpal Singh and Sarabjit Singh, captain and wicketkeeper, charged Services but Chawla removed both of them enroute to a five-wicket haul to restrict Services to 321 before Shamshad's first century of the season lifted UP to a 115-run first innings lead. On the final day Chawla and Zaidi grabbed two wickets apiece to almost snatch a outright victory but Jasvir Singh held firm with a fifty as Services ended on 161 for 6.

Uttar Pradesh 433 (Raina 127, Kumar 70, Chawla 57) drew with Punjab 238 (Zaidi 5-50) and 293 for 3 (Mongia 175*, Bipul Sharma 62)

The good batting form found against Services continued into the UP's fourth-round match against an in-form Punjab at Lucknow. This time it was Raina who led the way with a power-packed 127. Kumar and Chawla chipped in their career best scores to lift UP to 433. Punjab's attempt at a third win this season was thwarted after Zaidi took five and dismissed them for 238, forcing them to follow on However, Dinesh Mongia responded to the crisis with a magnificent unbeaten 175 to save the game.

Mohammad Kaif's return to the side made a hell of a difference as UP pulled a dramatic u-turn in their fortunes © AFP

Uttar Pradesh 340 (Shukla 116, Kaif 91) and 32 for 0 beat Hyderabad 142 and 227(Chawla 5-37) by 10 wickets
The pivotal point in UP's campaign - the entry of Mohammad Kaif. Kaif took over the reigns from Jyoti Prasad Yadav and led UP to their first win of the season. Shalabh Srivastava and Zaidi rocked the Hyderabad top order while Chawla blew the tail away as UP shot out Hyderabad for 142 before riding on Kaif's 91 and Shukla's 116 to run to a 198-run first innings lead. Chawla starred with the ball again, grabbing a five-for to bowl out Hyderabad for 227 before the UP openers knocked off the 30-run target to achieve their first victory. The tide was finally beginning to turn.

Uttar Pradesh 365 (Pandey 88, Kumar 78) and 156 for 2 (Kumar 57) beat Andhra 208 and 307 (Kumar 5-87) by 8 wickets
Kumar starred with an allround performance to propel UP to a win against Andhra at Anantapur in the last league game. First he shone with the bat and powered UP from 262 for 7 to a strong 365 with a breezy 68-ball 78, his career best, with six fours and four sixes. Pandey had earlier lifted them from a shaky 128 for 5 with a patient 253-ball 88 to lay the platform for Kumar to explode later. Kumar then grabbed a five-wicket haul and with a little bit of help from Chawla (3 for 43) bowled out Andhra for 208 and gave UP a 157-run first-innings lead that allowed them to force a follow-on. Andhra fought back through an 84 from Syeb Sahabuddin but Kumar's second five-for in the match restricted them to 307,setting a target of 151. This time there was no fumbling under pressure of a run-chase. Kaif promoted Kumar to open the batting and the 20-year-old allrounder responded with a half-century before Kaif and Raina put up an unbroken 60-run partnership to charge UP into the semi-finals

Semifinal Uttar Pradesh 250 and 216 (Kaif 64) beat Mumbai 199 and 264 by 5 wickets

It was an upbeat UP team that entered the semi-final encounter against Mumbai at Wankhede Stadium. And that confidence reflected on the opening day; Kumar and Srivastava shared seven wickets between them to rock the top order before Chawla cleaned up the tail to bowl out Mumbai for 199. Mumbai fought back through a double strike by Aavishkar Salvi which reduced UP to a shaky 13 for 3 before Raina led the UP fightback with a fine 72 and was involved in a 123-run partnership with Kaif (64) to lift UP to a 51-run first innings lead. In the second innings a triple strike by Zaidi left Mumbai reeling at 48 for 4 before a 119-run partnership between Amol Muzumdar and Ramesh Powar and a plucky breezy effort from Vinayak Samant pulled them out of the crisis as they finished on 264, setting a target of as many. Kaif guided UP's run chase, Raina charged it with a cameo performance, and Shamshad and Jyoti Yadav chipped in with vital contributions that saw UP reach the target with five wickets in hand to enter the final for the third time.

For a look at the Elite Group points table, click here

Sriram Veera is editorial assistant of Cricinfo