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Feature

Ranji Trophy knockouts: Uttar Pradesh bank on IPL stars, Punjab depend on young core

While Uttarakhand are in the quarters for the second time in three years, Jharkhand make their first appearance since 2016-17

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
04-Jun-2022
Saurabh Tiwary and Kumar Kushagra get together, Jharkhand vs Tamil Nadu, Ranji Trophy 2021-22, 4th day, Guwahati, March 6, 2022

Saurabh Tiwary and Kumar Kushagra, mainstays of the Jharkhand batting  •  PTI

In this, the second part of our preview looking at the Ranji Trophy quarter-finalists, we feature Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Jharkhand. You can read about the other four teams in the first part of the preview.

Jharkhand

Semi-finalists in 2016-17, Jharkhand since have somewhat slipped under the radar. They staved off a serious fight from Delhi to clinch a narrow opening victory courtesy Shahbaz Nadeem's ten-for, but slipped to a defeat in the following game against Chhattisgarh as they were shot out for 169 and 133 across two innings. In their final league game, they ran into an inspired Tamil Nadu, who nearly thwarted them, but for a pugnacious lower-order, led by Kumar Kushagra who fought hard to help secure a narrow two-wicket win. When they lost their seventh wicket, Jharkhand needed 36 more, and they held on to enter the pre-quarter-final.
In that game, they ground Nagaland, the Plate group qualifiers, to dust, by batting for 2.5 days to make 880, and then bat on in the second innings despite pocketing a 591-run lead. Nagaland's struggle finally ended just after halfway on the fifth day, as the two teams shook hands at Kolkata's Eden Gardens, with Jharkhand having taken a lead of 1008, the highest in the history of first-class cricket.
The key moment
Their win over Tamil Nadu, which could have gone either way, proved to be the clincher in many ways. As much as the batters deserve credit, fast bowler Rahul Shukla's fiery spell in the second innings that netted him figures of 12.2-2-29-5 to skittle TN for 152 proved to be the difference. He was well assisted by Nadeem and Anukul Roy, the left-arm spinners.

Punjab

Punjab have developed a young batting core in Prabhsimran Singh, Abhishek Sharma and Anmolpreet Singh, along with two senior pros in Mandeep Singh and Gurkeerat Mann. The lower-order pluck of Anmol Malhotra, the wicketkeeper, has further given them more heft. Malhotra, 26, has over the past three seasons, bailed the team out of tough situations
Often, Punjab have often found one of these players rising to the occasion and taking the responsibility of shepherding the batting. In the bowling department, they will be without Arshdeep Singh, who has been picked in India's T20I squad for the South Africa series. The attack will be spearheaded by Siddarth Kaul. As such, Punjab emerged runaway winners in a group also comprising Haryana, Himachal and Tripura, but it's hard to pick a winner between them and Madhya Pradesh.
The key moment
On the opening day of their tournament opener, they found themselves 165 for 4 shortly after lunch. Then Mandeep and Malhotra got together to add 163 at close to 4.5 an over to rattle along. Both went on to make hundreds - Mandeep 159 and Malhotra 100 - to set up a first innings score of 444 that helped consolidate their standing. Their bowlers then responded magnificently to deliver 149 overs across two innings back-to-back to secure victory as Haryana were made to follow-on. Punjab eventually polished off a small target by ten wickets to secure a bonus point to give themselves a headstart.

Uttar Pradesh

Up until the final day of the league phase, Uttar Pradesh and Vidarbha were in a neck-and-neck battle for the knockouts. Ultimately, Uttar Pradesh scored a crucial win over Maharashtra in their final league game to squeeze into the knockouts, while Vidarbha lost out an opportunity to press for an outright win against Maharashtra because of rain and damp weather that led to nearly six washed out sessions. This eventually proved to be the deciding factor when it came down to the final qualifying spot.
Rinku Singh currently leads their run charts with 300 runs in six innings. The presence of in-form duo of Yash Dayal and Mohsin Khan, both coming off breakthrough IPL season, will bolster their bowling, while Priyam Garg and Akshdeep Nath will carry the batting along with Rinku.
The key moment
Uttar Pradesh conceded 462 against Maharashtra, and then conceded a 145-run lead before clawing their way back. The fightback was led by Rinku, whose twin half-centuries in the game proved pivotal. His second-innings effort, an unbeaten 60-ball 78 in dying light on the final day, helped Uttar Pradesh pull off a mammoth chase of 359 to clinch victory and a spot in the knockouts.

Uttarakhand

Three seasons old, Uttarakhand will play their second quarter-final of the Ranji Trophy. This one should be more special than their maiden entry, given they qualified through the Elite pool, having overcome resistance from Andhra, Services and Rajasthan. The luck of the draw means they're slotted against Mumbai, who are the overwhelming favourites in their quarter-final clash.
Jay Bista, the Uttarakhand captain, will be playing against the team he made his first-class debut with. Still a Mumbai resident, Bista has played with every member of the opposition and only moved to Uttarakhand two seasons ago due to lack of opportunities with Mumbai. This will form a fascinating subplot to the contest. They will also bank on Robin Bist and Swapnil Singh's experience to steer the team. Bist has been part of a title-winning Rajasthan squad while Swapnil comes with years of experience from Baroda.
The key moment
In a tight group, their win over Rajasthan allowed them to progress despite losing their final fixture to Andhra. Mayank Mishra, the left-arm spinner, picked up seven wickets to open up a massive lead that Bista then build on. They won by 299 runs. Dikshanshu Negi also contributed two crucial half-centuries to the win. Mishra ended with a 11-wicket haul in a historic win.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo