The sixth round of 2018-19 Ranji Trophy concluded with five more matches ending in outright results. Two of those results - involving Tripura and Services winning - were particularly noteworthy because both teams were considered traditionally 'weak', but won handsomely enough to get a bonus point each.
Of greater interest, though, was how the points table is beginning to stack up, with only three rounds remaining.
Tight race in groups A and B; leaders pull away in C, D
Five teams will qualify from groups A and B combined, and the jostling for positions in a particularly packed space is going to be fascinating. Saurashtra have pulled ahead of the pack to be on 25 points after their win against Maharashtra. Kerala are second with 20 points, courtesy their bonus-point win against Delhi. Below them, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha are all on 18 points. Himachal Pradesh have made a surprise surge and are on 16 points, and although Tamil Nadu are on the 12th place, they have 12 points - one win away from vaulting into the top three. That's how close the top group is. Expect equations and places to change further, as the other rounds progress. The identities of the teams near the bottom is also interesting: Mumbai are 13th, Delhi are 15th, and Karnataka are only marginally better, on the eighth spot.
Group C has Rajasthan as the runaway toppers with 34 points. Uttar Pradesh have 25 points, while Jharkhand have 24. Every team in Group C has three matches left, so in theory, lots of permutations are still possible. But these three have been a cut above the rest all through the season, and to remove them from their top perches - Services are fourth with 16 points - would require a fairly extraordinary upending of the form book.
In the Plate Group, Uttarakhand are sitting pretty on 36 points, a whole 12 points clear of Puducherry, who have played one game less. The next round will pit the two against each other, and if it has a result, it could well determine which team finishes on top. Bihar are the dark horse with 21 points.
Dube serves notice; Karnataka, Hyderabad do the opposite
Shivam Dube smashed five sixes in five balls to go from 45 to 75 in an over. It was an opportune time to do it, on the eve of the IPL auctions - not that Dube isn't already on the radar of teams.
On the other hand, there was some distinctly un-IPL like play, too. Karnataka had been set 173 to win in a session. They began cautiously, had a brief period where they seemed to challenge the target thanks to Mayank Agarwal's big-hitting, but then shut shop when Agarwal was out. They ended up on 107 for 4 in 27 overs, with the teams shaking hands early.
Elsewhere, Hyderabad were turgid in their approach and made Bengal's first-innings run-rate of 2.78 look like a Powerplay. Bengal's slowness was partly due to their innings being a one-man show, Abhimanyu Easwaran scoring more than half of their runs with 186. Hyderabad, on the other hand, seemed intent to play only for the first-innings lead. On the third day, they scored 184 runs in 77 overs with their top-order batting losing only three wickets. The last of those came in the penultimate over of the day. Eventually, they fell short of Bengal's 336, being bowled out for 312 despite their go-slow approach.
Tripura create history
In all their first-class history, Tripura had won only eight matches before this round. None of those wins were by 10 wickets or an innings - so Tripura had never won with a bonus point. That changed against Goa in this round. Pratyush Singh's 110 had taken them to 358. A collective bowling effort across two innings - Goa were made to follow on - resulted in a fourth-innings target of just eight runs. Tripura's openers took just five balls to get there, giving the team seven points and lifting them above Goa in Group C to be second-last.
Services, too, won with a bonus point, as Diwesh Pathania sent Assam to 256 all out. Services had a target of 72, but with Rajat Paliwal there, they achieved that comfortably. Paliwal had made 180 batting at No. 4 in the first innings. This time, he came out to open, a statement of intent perhaps and an attempt to get the bonus point. The move worked, with Paliwal unbeaten on 39 off 48 balls.
Left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate ran through Railways with 6 for 43 - taking career-best match figures of 9 for 109 - to give Vidarbha a 118-run win. Railways were bowled out in just 24.2 overs in the morning, having resumed at their overnight dig on 19 for 1.
In other results, Himachal Pradesh notched up a significant win, beating Andhra by an innings and three runs to pocket a bonus point. Andhra had resumed on 175 for 1, but losing centurion CR Gnaneshwar precipitated a collapse from 194 for 1 to 284 all out. Meanwhile, Saurashtra were made to work towards a target of 117, but got there with five wickets in the bag. Maharashtra were 157 for 3 overnight, but couldn't carry on, with Dharmendrasinh Jadeja taking career-best figures of 7 for 55. It included Kedar Jadhav stumped for a first-ball duck.