Ranji Trophy 6th round: Vidarbha make history, double for Mayank, ten for Akash Deep
Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have entered the quarter-finals with one round to go, while Bihar and Manipur will contest the Plate final
The sixth - and penultimate - round of group-stage matches at the Ranji Trophy featured close finishes and innings victories, and we even identified a few of the quarter-finalists. But the highlight was Vidarbha defending 73 - the lowest target successfully defended in first-class cricket in India - against Gujarat, and winning by 18 runs in a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka in quarter-finals
An innings victory over Haryana - in which seamer Akash Deep took ten wickets - took Bengal into the last eight, as they won with a bonus point. Akash Deep was the star, but the win was set up by Anustup Majumdar's 145 and handy contributions with the bat from the lower order, as Bengal posted 419 after being sent in. Harshal Patel and Ajit Chahal shared seven wickets for Haryana.
Sumit Kumar hit 70 not out, and added 63 for the last wicket with Aman Kumar, but Deep's 5 for 61 gave Bengal a 256-run lead as Haryana were dismissed for 163. Bengal asked Haryana, the hosts, to follow-on, but in another batting collapse, Haryana went from 129 without loss to 206 all out. Deep again starred with 5 for 51, with Mukesh Kumar taking three.
For Karnataka, captain Mayank Agarwal's 208 gave them a first-innings lead of 143 over Kerala in Thumba, enough to pocket three points and finish the round as table-toppers in their group.
Responding to Kerala's 342, propelled by Sachin Baby's 141, Karnataka declared on 484 for 9.
Kerala batted for 51 overs in their second innings and got to 96 for 4 when play ended.
Apart from Agarwal, V Koushik was a star performer for Karnataka with 6 for 54 in the first Kerala innings.
Meanwhile, defending champions Madhya Pradesh already had 32 points heading into the sixth round, and despite an innings defeat to Punjab, they made the quarter-finals.
Nehal Wadhera cracked 214 and Anmolpreet Singh hit 124, as Punjab put up 443 in Mohali.
With the ball, Siddarth Kaul's four wickets helped bowl MP out for 244, as Harsh Gawli, Yash Dubey and Shubham Sharma got to half-centuries but failed to capitalise.
Punjab asked MP to follow-on, and skittled them for 77. On this occasion, it was Arshdeep Singh who got 4 for 30, as Punjab boosted their chances of a place in the last eight.
Sarwate's 11-for floors Gujarat
Left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate grabbed 5 for 64 and 6 for 17, as Vidarbha stunned Gujarat at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur. Gujarat were rolled over for 54, failing to chase 74 in the final innings. That was a record for the lowest first-class target successfully defended in India, topping the 78 by Bihar against Delhi in Jamshedpur way back in 1948-49.
Vidarbha's win came despite falling 182 behind in the first innings, as they themselves folded for 74 on the first day's play. Sanjay Raghunath scored 33 of those, as Chintan Gaja and Tejas Patel picked up five wickets each.
Sarwate struck early with the ball in Gujarat's first innings after opening the bowling, before Aarya Desai and Bhargav Merai added 117 for the second wicket. Aarya top-scored with 88, as Gujarat lost five wickets for 41 runs in a lower-order collapse to finish on 256.
By then, the match had barely moved into the second day, and the action came thick and fast. In Vidarbha's second innings, Raghunath, Atharva Taide, Akshay Wadkar and Yash Rathod threw away respectable starts, before Jitesh Sharma counter-attacked with 69 from only 53 balls - including four fours and five sixes.
Siddharth Desai bagged 6 for 74 to restrict Vidarbha to 254 and Gujarat's target to 73, only for Sarwate and Harsh Dubey to run through their line-up. Only Desai got into double figures, as Vidarbha secured six vital points.
Andhra stun heavyweights Saurashtra
Left-arm spinner Lalith Mohan took 11 wickets in the match - including a career-best 6 for 58 in the second innings - as Andhra beat Saurashtra by 150 runs in Rajkot in one of the results of the season.
In the first innings, Andhra's batters right up to No. 8 made useful contributions, with Ashwin Hebbar's 109 and Ricky Bhui's 80 leading the way. That propelled them up to 415, before Mohan got down to work with 5 for 71, pushing Andhra 178 ahead.
With a big lead in place, Karan Shinde hit an unbeaten fifty, even as Abhishek Reddy and captain Hanuma Vihari picked up pace in the second innings. Vihari declared at 164, and set Saurashtra 343, only for Mohan to grab six more to firm up the result despite Cheteshwar Pujara's 91.
Bihar, Manipur qualify for Plate final
Following a commanding semi-final victory over Meghalaya, Bihar qualified for the final of the Plate group with a thumping 302-run win. Wicketkeeper-batter Bipin Saurabh's 177 helped them to 428 in the first innings, before Meghalaya were bowled out for 134. But despite a first-innings advantage of 294, Bihar batted again.
However, Meghalaya hit back by bundling Bihar for just 164 to keep their side afloat. Left-arm spinner Rajesh Bishnoi took 6 for 30 to give Meghalaya hope, but the target of 459 proved far beyond their reach.
In Surat, Manipur didn't have it all that easy against Sikkim, who they beat by only two wickets as they hunted down a 337-run target in the fourth innings. For Sikkim, Player of the Match Sumit Singh's all-round effort - 56 and 168 with the bat, and 6 for 60 with the ball in the second innings - went in vain, as Manipur eked out a memorable win.
Sikkim were 63 ahead in the first-innings exchanges courtesy Nilesh Lamichaney's 83 and Bijay Prasad's 4 for 18, after which Sumit smashed 168 at better than a run a ball in their second-innings total of 273. Manipur's Pheiroijam Jotin got 4 for 33 and 5 for 62 in the game. In the chase, Ahmed Shah's aggressive 43 not out followed 75 from Basir Rahman, 64 from Bikash Singh and 52 from captain Langlonyamba Meitan Keishangbam to help Manipur home.
Numbers that matter
Elite - Dhruv Shorey (Delhi): ten innings, 806 runs, average 100.75, three centuries, two half-centuries
Plate - Taruwar Kohli (Mizoram): ten innings, 746 runs, average 74.60, three centuries, three half-centuries
Elite - Jalaj Saxena (Kerala): 45 wickets in 11 innings, average 17.93, five five-fors, two 10-fors
Plate - Rajesh Bishnoi (Meghalaya): 39 wickets in 12 innings, average 15.58, five five-fors
Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo