New Delhi, Jan 15 (IANS) Services, a force to reckon with in Indian cricket some four decades ago, have out of the blue struck a purple patch this season and barged into the the Ranji Trophy semifinals where they take on Sachin Tendulkar-reinforced Mumbai here at the Air Force Ground, Palam, from Wednesday.
Defying all odds, Services beat a strong Uttar Pradesh team to reach the semifinal after 44 years, but they were not surprised at all after their splendid performance at the Group Stage, winning four of their matches.
Mumbai, on the other hand, got off to a slow start, drawing their first six games, and just about made the knockout round, snatching the vital first-innings lead against Baroda in their last Group game.
Mumbai, buoyed by the return of Tendulkar, who retired from One-day internationals recently, will be looking to add to their record 39 Ranji Trophy wins.
Tendulkar announced his return in grand style hitting a century, his 80th in first-class cricket, in the first innings against Baroda.
The hero of Services victory against U.P. was their captain Soumik Chatterjee, who batting with an injured left knee, hit the winning runs for a five-wicket win.
With his team 54 for five in a chase of 113, Chatterjee hopped on one leg and took his team to a memorable win.
While Chatterjee's brave effort made him the star of the chase, fast bowler Suraj Yadav, with a career-best haul of 7 for 71 in UP's second innings was also a architect of the win.
Rajat Paliwal, Yashpal Singh, Suraj Yadav and Shadab Nazar have played a crucial hands in Services' success
Paliwal has four centuries and two half-centuries for a total of 773 runs at 85.88 this season while Yashpal has 732 runs at 73.20.
Suraj has snared 41 scalps in nine matches including a nine-wicket haul in the quarter-final. Nazar made his first-class debut this season and has 31 wickets.
Soumik, a Sergeant posted at Air Force Station, Palam, credited their remarkable performance to Air Commodore M. Baladitya for his contribution.
Baladitya, who was the manager of the India team, complimented the team for an excellent showing.
Mumbai will have Hiken Shah and Abhishek Nayar to thank for their team reaching the semifinals in the absence of some big stars.
Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma are away at international duty and the team will once again rely on the two batsmen to help Tendulkar in posting a big score.
Nayar has scored 870 runs at 108.75 with three centuries and seven fifties while Shah has 718 runs with three centuries this season.
Services, who have already outdone themselves, will have nothing to lose when they face the formidable Mumbai. With the minnows playing at their home ground, where they excelled during the league matches, an upset cannot be counted out.
In the other semi-final Punjab will take on Saurashtra in Rajkot.