Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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From 38 teams, there are eight standing as the knockout phase of the 2020-21 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the domestic T20 tournament, begins in Ahmedabad from Tuesday. The men's T20 World Cup is scheduled for October-November in India, while the IPL auction is just around the corner. Therefore, the national selectors and the IPL talent scouts are likely to keenly watch out for players they could shortlist. Here's ESPNcricinfo's quick reckoner on each of the four quarter-finals that will be played at the new 100,000-seater stadium, behind closed doors.
Karnataka vs Punjab
Punjab finished the league phase with an all-win record, while Karnataka just managed to sneak through on net run rate despite winning four out of five matches. Going into the final day of the league phase, they needed three results to go their way, and luckily for them, the stars aligned.
Manish Pandey is unavailable due to a tennis elbow. Karun Nair's prolonged bad patch is now into its third year, Devdutt Padikkal is yet to hit top gear and Shreyas Gopal has been in and out of the side. The bowling has blown hot and cold, and with K Gowtham unavailable due to net-bowler duties with the Indian team for the upcoming England series, Karnataka will need a collective effort.
For Punjab, Prabhsimran and Abhishek Sharma have swatted bowling attacks to the extent that the middle order has hardly had a look-in, but there's experience to bank on in the form of Mandeep Singh, Anmolpreet Singh, and Gurkeerat Mann.
Himachal vs Tamil Nadu
The Dinesh Karthik-led Tamil Nadu not only dominated the group stages, but also had an air of intimidation to their performances. Four of their five wins came in chases after those games were set up by the spin trio of R Sai Kishore, M Ashwin and B Aparajith; the fifth was set up by the batsmen, led by N Jagadeesan. Sandeep Warrier has given their attack some pace and control upfront with the new ball.
Himachal, meanwhile, have come through the tough way, staving off competition from Gujarat to finish as the team with the second-best net run rate from the Elite pool. Their defense of 141 against Gujarat proved to be crucial to their qualification, and the win was carved out by Rishi Dhawan courtesy an unbeaten 43 and two wickets. Once touted a serious India prospect, he has slipped under the radar and performances like those should help him at least come back into the IPL radar.
Haryana vs Baroda
Jayant Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohit Sharma, and Rahul Tewatia give Haryana the kind of experience they have been yearning for. That they have got here having convincingly beaten Delhi, consisting Ishant Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Nitish Rana among others, tells you how well they've gelled as a unit. Along the way, they also had to stave off a serious fight from Kerala, who fizzled out after starting the tournament with a bang.
Up against them is a side that has punched above its weight to get here. The build-up to their tournament wasn't the best, with senior allrounder Deepak Hooda leaving the camp after a tiff with Krunal Pandya. Then, Krunal, the captain, had to leave the camp due to the death of his father, leaving Kedar Devdhar with a relatively inexperienced side. Lukman Meriwala, the fast bowler, has been key to them bowling out two accomplished sides in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh for sub-100 totals. Devdhar himself has taken up the batting responsibility and tops their run charts currently with 226 runs in five innings, including a best of 99 not out against Maharashtra.
Bihar vs Rajasthan
This may seem as a bit of a mismatch. Bihar didn't even know the side they'd put out for their first game a week before departure. Two different factions, claiming to run cricket in the state, picked squads amid administrative squabbles. But having got the distraction out of the way, Bihar did well to keep up their side of the bargain by winning four out of five.
However, they must also consider themselves massively lucky for a washout between Chandigarh and Nagaland, the other two sides with four wins, pushed them into the knockouts. A result either way in that game could have certainly meant curtains for Bihar. They've hardly been troubled, though. The highest of their four chases was a mere 111. Ironically, their serious challenge came from seventh-placed Arunachal, who bowled them out for 122 and then lost by 18 runs.
Rajasthan aren't strangers to administrative issues but seem to be developing a good core group of players, like the Chahars - Deepak and Rahul - who are both capped India players and key to their respective IPL teams, young legspinner Ravi Bishnoi, fast bowler Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Tanveer Ul-Haq and batsman Mahipal Lomror. Deepak Chahar, though, will miss the knockouts due to injury, but Bihar's inexperience may just help Rajasthan sail through their first knockouts hurdle.