Rajkot: Compared to the skewed contest in prospect when Services take on Mumbai at New Delhi, this year’s other Ranji Trophy semi-final appears to be slightly more even. Group A’s top two teams - Punjab and Saurashtra – will battle it out for a place in the final at Rajkot on a wicket that promises runs by the bucketful.
Preview: Mumbai vs Services
It will essentially be a battle between Saurashtra’s prolific batting and Punjab’s lubricated seam bowling. But things are not as equal as they seem. Punjab have been the runaway success of the season, while Saurashtra have only barely managed to make it so far. Both teams relied on a strong batting line up to dominate their quarter-final opponents by virtue of a first innings lead, but Saurashtra are without the services of their most important batsmen going into the semi-final.
No Pujara or Jadeja
Multiple triple-centurion Ravindra Jadeja – who was also the leading wicket-taker for Saurashtra – had to forsake his State when he was called up for national duties. The classy Cheteshwara Pujara scored a double against Madhya Pradesh and a murderous triple against Karnataka in the quarters, before he too was summoned for the ODIs against England.
Although in wicketkeeper-batsman Sagar Jogiyani and Sheldon Jackson Saurashtra have two more prolific scorers, it’s lack of bite in bowling that may cause their downfall. Jaidev Unadkat and his seam bowling companions are likely to struggle to restrict Punjab’s in-form batsmen in a contest that is unlikely to provide an outright winner.
Punjab made blazing start to the season through debutant Jiwanjot Singh, who score a double-century and century in the first two games. The visiting team’s bowling has been incisive all season. Sandeep Sharma (41 wickets) and Siddharth Kaul (38) have benefitted from young legs and the veteran Manpreet Gony has bowled consistently well.
Punjab ran through Saurashtra when the teams met in the league stage, and while the docile pitch may not facilitate another rout, there are fair indications of which way the contest will tilt. The 19-year-old Sandeep, who took a ten-wicket haul in the league game against Saurashtra, missed the quarter-final due to a shoulder injury, but is expected to be fit for the semi-final. The vastly experienced Harbhajan Singh may also prove handy in the big game.