It is the last chance for the domestic players to impress for the all-important Indian Premier League (IPL) auction when the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy knockouts begin in Ahmedabad from Tuesday. While Karnataka makes every effort to keep the title, the seven other teams that have made it to the quarter-finals will be itching to impress and get their names on the trophy. The event marked the resumption of the much-delayed 2020-21 domestic season in the country.
A powerful Punjab team stands between Karnataka and their title defense, as the two teams face off in the first quarter-final, which is expected to be an even fight.
Punjab made it to Elite Group A’s knockouts after winning all of their five matches in the league phase, while Karnataka made it to the last eight, despite being second on the points table in Group A after losing one match.
The match could be touted as an opener as Punjab owns young Prabhsimran Singh, who is in good shape, with 277 runs, while Karnataka will count on stylish left-handed Devdutt Padikkal, who has 207 runs from five games.
Both sides have an equally strong middle order. Punjab, however, could have a slight lead in their attack with Sidharth Kaul (10 wickets) and Sandeep Sharma in their arsenal.
Sandeep Sharma, in particular, is deadly in the game’s shortest format. But Karnataka has people like Abhimanyu Mithun and Prasidh Krishan who can be equally dangerous.
Even the match between the spinners is somewhat even as Punjab has Mayank Markande, while Karnataka will count on the leading spin duo of veteran J Suchith and Shreyas Gopal.
In the second quarter-final, ahead of Tamil Nadu, who was second last season, offensive opener N Jagadeesan, who is the leading run-getter in the tournament so far with 315 runs and skipper Dinesh Karthik, will once again be the lead players. in their clash against Himachal Pradesh, coming through Elite Group C.
Tamil Nadu’s bowling department has done a great job for skipper Karthik, although it was without ace-spinner R Ashwin, yorker specialist T Natarajan and all-rounder Washington Sundar who were off for national service in Australia.
Leg spinner M Ashwin and left arm spinner R Sai Kishore were quite a handful, but it was Baba Aparajith, who was the surprise package, took the new ball and enjoyed a huge success too.
The trio will play a pivotal role in the knockouts if Tamil Nadu has to go all the way, as will the pacesetters Sandeep Warrier, M Mohammed and Aswin Crist.
Also in the third quarter finals, it could be difficult for Baroda to rise to Haryana’s challenge without the services of the Pandya brothers – Hardik and Krunal.
Although Hardik did not play the tournament as he was practicing for the white-ball series against England, Krunal had to leave the tournament halfway through after the death of his father.
Haryana has been in excellent shape and it is their spinners – the Indian player Yuzvendra Chahal, Jayant Yadav and Rahul Tewatia, who will give them the upper hand against Baroda.
But Baroda led by Kedar Devdhar, who has collected 226 runs in five games, may surprise. And to make that happen, left arm pacer Lukman Meriwala (11 wickets) and Atit Sheth (8 wickets) hold the key against a vulnerable Haryana top order.
In the fourth quarter final, Rajasthan, who qualified from Group D, will be the runaway favorites against Bihar, who has qualified from the Plate Group.
The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy knockouts will also be the first time matches will be played at the renovated Sardar Patel Motera Stadium.
It will be interesting to see how the field behaves with the two tests between India and England that will follow at the site.
Quarter Final 1: January 26: at 12 noon: Punjab vs Karnataka
Quarter Final 2: Jan 26: at 7pm: Tamil Nadu vs Himachal
Quarter Final 3: January 27: at noon: Haryana vs Baroda
Quarter Final 4: Jan 27: at 7pm: Rajasthan vs Bihar
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