Gujarat and Karnataka became the first teams to qualify for the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2020-21 semi-finals, with convincing wins against Andhra and Kerala respectively on Monday. Both victories were fashioned by opening batsmen.
While Priyank Panchal made 134 off 131 to power Gujarat to 299 for 7, Karnataka's opening duo of R Samarth and Devdutt Padikkal continued their irresistible form during the tournament as the side piled on 338 for 3. Samarth, the new Karnataka captain, smashed a career-best 192 (off 158 balls), while Padikkal made a 119-ball 101. Kerala mounted a challenge of sorts but subsided to 258 all out in 43.4 overs with seamer Ronit More taking 5 for 36 in nine overs, as Karnataka wrapped up an 80-run win.
Gujarat's victory was even bigger, as Andhra were bowled out for 182 in 41.2 overs. Left-arm pacer Arzan Nagwaswalla took 4 for 28.
Karnataka and Gujarat now await the winners of the quarter-finals between Mumbai-Saurashtra and Uttar Pradesh-Delhi, which will both take place on Tuesday.
Samarth and Padikkal have both piled on runs in the tournament, and they proved unstoppable once again. Padikkal made his fourth consecutive century - having hit 152 against Odisha, 126* against Kerala in the league game, and 145* against Railways coming into the game. He thus became the first Indian player to hit four consecutive List A centuries. Only two other players have hit four consecutive centuries in one-dayers: Kumar Sangakkara for Sri Lanka in the 2015 World Cup, and Alviro Petersen later that year in the Momentum One-Day Cup 2015-16 for the Lions.
Samarth, meanwhile, pressed on, and was in sight of a double-hundred when he fell with ten balls remaining in the innings. He hit three sixes and 22 fours, while accelerating at pace during his innings. His first fifty took 59 balls, and he reached a century in 112 balls. He then plundered 91 runs off his last 46 balls. Samarth has been only marginally less prolific than Padikkal, having not scored below 60 in his last five innings, which include two scores of 150-plus.
Both Padikkal (673 runs) and Samarth (605 runs) sit comfortably atop the run-getters list for the tournament, with no other batsman having crossed even 450 yet.
All of Kerala's bowlers came in for heavy punishment barring Jalaj Saxena, who took the new ball against Karnataka's marauding openers but ended up conceding a mere 34 runs in ten overs, finishing the tournament with an economy rate below 3.75. Nedumankuzhy Basil, the right-arm medium pacer playing only his fifth List A game, took all the wickets to fall, ending with 3 for 57 in eight overs.
Kerala's reply suffered an early jolt when the in-form Robin Uthappa was lbw for 2 against his home state, More making his first breakthrough. Vathsal Govind, the 21-year-old left-hand batsman playing his debut one-day season, made 92 off 96 while Mohammed Azharuddeen smashed 52 off 34, but with none of the rest of the top order crossing 30 and More striking regularly, Kerala's task was always a difficult one. Saxena added to a good all-round day with a 23-ball 24 from No.8, until he was the last man out.
More, who had not been picked in the XI for Karnataka's last three games, got his opportunity due to a niggle to Abhimanyu Mithun, and made the most of it.
Panchal joined Samarth in both captains being the top run-scorers in their matches, holding Gujarat's innings together till he fell in the 49th over. Panchal maintained a brisk pace throughout his innings, accelerating after his century, which took 114 balls. He hit 10 fours and two sixes during his innings, and was the fulcrum around which Gujarat built their total. The rest of the top order all got into double figures, but Gujarat's second highest score was 36, by No.3 Rahul Shah.
Ripal Patel, the hard-hitting pace-bowling allrounder who was signed by Delhi Capitals at the IPL 2021 auctions, provided some ballast in the second half with a 24-ball 35 that pushed Gujarat along, but it was Panchal who carried the innings on his bat.
Andhra's most successful bowler was right-arm medium pacer Harishankar Reddy, snapped up by Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2021 auctions, who took 3 for 60 in ten overs including the wicket of Panchal. KV Sasikanth and debutant Lalith Mohan both took 2 for 55, though Mohan bowled only nine overs.
Andhra's reply was derailed early by Nagwaswalla, who has now become the top wicket-taker in the competition. Nagwaswalla has 19 scalps from six games at an average of 12.00. He struck in the second, fourth and sixth overs - his third wicket being that of Hanuma Vihari for a duck.
Ricky Bhui continued his good form with 67 off 76 from No.5, but with the rest of the top order falling cheaply, Andhra were always behind. Some lower-order runs meant they recovered briefly from 58 for 5 in the 16th over, but that only narrowed the margin of defeat.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo