After a hectic three-week period of league stage matches, contested by 38 teams split across four groups, the business end of the Vijay Hazare Trophy has arrived. The best eight teams have assembled in the city for the quarterfinal round, which will be held at here on Sunday and Monday.
Home favourite Karnataka takes on Plate group topper Pondicherry at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, while Delhi battles Gujarat at Just Cricket ground (both matches on Sunday).
The strong Karnataka side, with seven wins in eight Group-A matches, starts as clear favourite over unheralded Pondicherry. The Karnataka batting line-up wears a fearsome look, with skipper Manish Pandey leading the pack with an average of 101. Young Devdutt Padikkal is not too far behind, with two centuries and three fifties to his name. His opening partner, K.L. Rahul, is unstoppable when he hits top gear. The bowling is spearheaded by pacer Prasidh Krishna, who bagged a five-for in the last group match, against Saurashtra.
A big step up
Puducherry, which faced lesser sides in the Plate group, now takes a big step up. The likes of exciting batsman Arun Karthik — who started his domestic career with Tamil Nadu — and former Karnataka captain Vinay Kumar need to be at their very best.
Karnataka bowling coach S. Aravind stated that Pondicherry will not be taken lightly, and that all necessary homework on the opposition has been done. “Vinay and JAK (current Pondicherry coach and former Karnataka coach J. Arunkumar) know our strengths and weaknesses, but we’ve done our research too. We spoke to players from States who played practice matches against Pondicherry. We also analysed match videos of the Pondicherry team,” Aravind said here on Saturday.
Arunkumar stated while the Karnataka batsmen are in great form, they are fallible. “It takes only one good ball, one mistake, or one brilliant catch to get someone out,” Arunkumar said.
The other last-eight fixture promises to be a more balanced contest.
Delhi, which played all its Group-B matches on tricky surfaces at Vadodara, will relish the chance to play in more friendly conditions at Just Cricket ground. Nitish Rana, the highest run-scorer and wicket-taker for the team, stands out as the key man.
The Parthiv Patel-led Gujarat side may be short on star power, but is big on consistency. With eight wins in nine Group-C matches, to go with its fine record in recent Vijay Hazare campaigns, Gujarat cannot be counted out.
On Monday, Tamil Nadu — the only side in the tournament to have won all of its group matches — goes up against a young Punjab. Chhattisgarh and defending champion Mumbai, which sneaked into the knockout stage after edging out Uttar Pradesh on net run-rate, complete the quarterfinal line-up.
Quarterfinal matches (all matches start at 9 a.m.): Sunday: Karnataka vs Pondicherry (M. Chinnaswamy Stadium); Delhi vs Gujarat (Just Cricket Ground).
Monday: Punjab vs Tamil Nadu (Alur-1), Chhattisgarh vs Mumbai (Alur-2).