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Feature

Bengal target back-to-back finals, Mumbai favourites against UP

Perennial underachievers, MP, have the chance to make their first final since 1998-99

Uttar Pradesh's last Ranji Trophy title came in 2005-06  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Uttar Pradesh's last Ranji Trophy title came in 2005-06  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The semi-finals of the 87th edition of Ranji Trophy, India's premier first-class tournament, will kick off in Bengaluru on Tuesday with Madhya Pradesh taking on Bengal and Mumbai facing Uttar Pradesh. Here is a look at how the teams are placed ahead of the crucial matches.
Bengal target back-to-back finals
MP captain Aditya Shrivastava was five years old when they last reached the Ranji Trophy title round, in 1998-99. Chandrakant Pandit was the MP captain then, and 23 years later, he has led them to the semi-finals. None of the current team members were even born when the team - then called Holkar - lifted the trophy, way back in 1952-53. However, the perennial underachievers now have the opportunity to collect the silverware they so yearn for.
Coming off a dominating 10-wicket win over Punjab in the quarter-finals, MP will be up against an in-form Bengal, in Alur, the outskirts of Bengaluru.
MP have match-winners in the likes of Kumar Kartikeya, Akshat Raghuwanshi and Rajat Patidar. Yash Dubey, Patidar and Shubham Sharma have all scored more than 400 runs each in four matches this season, while left-arm spinner Kartikeya sits at the top of bowling charts for the team with 19 wickets from four games. Pace bowlers Anubhav Agarwal and Gaurav Yadav have picked up 25 wickets between them, while Puneet Datey and offspinner Saransh Jain also showed glimpses of promise in the quarter-finals.
Bengal, the 2019-20 edition's finalists, have made their way to the last four having won all their three group games (only team to do so this season in Elite groups), and eking out a draw against Jharkhand after gaining a mammoth first-innings lead of 475 runs in the quarter-finals.
They would be banking on the pace trio of Ishan Porel, Mukesh Kumar and Akash Deep, who have accounted for 40 of the 67 wickets taken by the team this season. And then there is Shahbaz Ahmed, who has picked up 12 wickets and piled up 344 runs in four matches and has carried his IPL form into the long format.
That their veteran batter Manoj Tiwary found his groove in the quarter-finals - he scored 73 and 136 against Jharkhand - would bode well for the team, who last claimed the Ranji title three decades ago. Having come close to winning the trophy in March 2020, Tiwary, who was also a part of the Bengal teams that lost the finals in 2005-06 and 2006-07, would be keen to help Bengal get hold of the elusive title.
Mumbai favourites against UP
It didn't matter that Mumbai just managed to sneak into the knockouts (they also had to rely on other results to go their way in the group stage). Making a strong statement in the quarter-finals with the biggest ever first-class win, of 725 runs versus Uttarakhand, Mumbai begin as favourites against UP at the Just Cricket Academy.
Having featured in 46 of the 86 Ranji finals, the 41-time champions will aim to carry forward their confidence from the quarter-final triumph. Experienced wicketkeeper-batter Aditya Tare will miss the game after suffering a finger injury, and so will Suryakumar Yadav and Ajinkya Rahane. However, Mumbai do boast of a batting line-up consisting of Prithvi Shaw, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sarfaraz Khan and Arman Jaffer that can threaten any opposition. That the debutant Suved Parkar also made an instant impact with his record 252 against Uttarakhand will please Mumbai. In the bowling department, left-arm spinner Shams Mulani has been the headline-maker with 37 wickets, the most for a bowler this edition.
Sarfaraz, the season's highest run-scorer, will be up against the state he belongs to and the team he quit to return to Mumbai. Even Mumbai's opener Jaiswal has roots in UP.
And though UP do not have big-name players like Mumbai nor do they have any titles to show in the recent past (their last Ranji title came in 2005-06), Mumbai would not make the mistake of taking them lightly. Like Mumbai, UP also had to battle for a knockout berth until the last day of the group stage. They have been unbeaten so far, which includes a come-from-behind win against eight-time winners and pre-tournament favourites Karnataka in the last-eight stage.
In Rinku Singh, Priyam Garg, and Karan Sharma, Uttar Pradesh have a reliable batting line-up. Pace bowler Yash Dayal, who had a breakthrough IPL season, has only strengthened their bowling department that also comprises Ankit Rajpoot and left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar.
Having scripted a heist to reach the semi-finals, UP would want to extract a small measure of revenge for their 2008-09 final loss to Mumbai.

Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo