So it has come to this - the last round of the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy and there are 14 more teams in contention for the remaining five QF spots in the entire tournament. The most dramatic, however, is the Elite Group A and B, for which we have analysed the qualification chances for the knock-outs.
Lest you are unaware, eight teams from four groups will qualify for the Quarter-finals with no equivalent measure. A total of five teams will go through to the last eight from Elite Group A and B, and Elite Group C will have two representatives in the Quarters while the Plate Group will provide the final team for the knockouts. Not only will the table topper from the Plate Group play in the quarters, they will also earn the right to ply their trade in Elite Group C next year irrespective of the result in the knock-out stage this year.
As we approach the last round of the league stage, it is prudent to look at how things are shaping up. Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Andhra Pradesh have already placed themselves in the eliminators, but that does not mean that the race is over in the top tier of the tournament. We will take a look at the possible scenarios which can affect the position after the last group stage, starting February 12, across the lengths and breadths of the country.
It should be noted that the likes of Mumbai, Rajasthan, Railways, and Himachal Pradesh have already been out of the qualification scenario, Hyderabad and Madhya Pradesh are looking to salvage some pride that will prevent them from joining Kerala as the other relegated team to Elite Group C.
Gujarat, Saurashtra, Andhra already Qualified
Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Andhra have already qualified for the quarters, irrespective of the result in the last round. With 29 points from seven games, Gujarat, who sit atop the table, will host Andhra in their final encounter of the league stage. A home win will cement the top position unless Saurashtra better Gujarat's result in the final game against Tamil Nadu. However, a loss, too, wouldn’t be too matter for the Parthiv Patel-led team because Andhra, their opponent for the last game, have already been qualified. In such a scenario, they will still qualify among the five. If they face a loss and Saurashtra secure a win, Gujarat will find themselves in the fourth position, with all of Andhra, Saurashtra and one of Bengal and Punjab getting into the top three. The same also goes for Saurashtra and Andhra Pradesh who with 28 and 27 points respectively, have nothing to worry about.
Bengal and Punjab have a lot at stake
The scenario for Bengal is an extremely simple one - win or a first-innings lead and they will find themselves among the eight who will fight it out for the coveted trophy. A win will take them to 32 points and a first-innings lead guides them to 29, putting them in the top five bracket straightaway. However, other probabilities like a first innings deficit or a loss do not end their hopes but that would mean that someone else would control their fate. In case Punjab take the first-innings lead, Bengal will be left stranded at 27 points but should be safe thanks to their superior net run-rate (+1.660). But if they lose, they will have to now wait for the result between UP and HP, desperately wishing the former not to get a bonus point. Their fate will also depend on Karnataka as Bengal will hope the South Indian team either lose or concede a first-innings lead against Baroda.
Like their counterpart Bengal, Punjab also has a simple equation - win and qualify. If they only manage a first-inning lead draw, then both of the teams will end up with 27 points, creating another tied scenario. If Andhra lose to Gujarat and UP fails to go beyond the HP line, then four teams will be on the same point mark, leaving the NRR to take the call.
Karnataka - 25 Points
The situation for the eight-time champions is the same as that of Bengal, with a win or a first-innings lead against Baroda helping them secure a berth in the knock-outs. However, in the rather unwanted scenario, if they concede the first-innings lead to Baroda, they will have to wait for the following results to go their way. Bengal will have to beat Punjab, UP should at least drop a point against Himachal and Tamil Nadu don't get a bonus point against Saurashtra. That will effectively mean, none of Punjab, UP, and Tamil Nadu will reach the 25-point mark, ensuring Karnataka’s qualification as the fifth team from the combined group.
Uttar Pradesh - 20 Points
Unlike the top-five, UP’s fortunes are not in their hands. A bonus point win against Himachal will take them to 27 points, getting them close to a QF berth, but to ensure qualification, they have to wait for Karnataka at least conceding a first innings lead to Baroda - a loss would be great for them too - and waiting for an outright result from the Bengal-Punjab game.
However, Karnataka’s win or three-point draw would force them to wait for Punjab taking a first-innings lead against Bengal or Andhra losing to Gujarat. The scenario will have Andhra, Bengal, Karnataka, and Punjab tied on 27 points with the NRR determining fortunes. There is a chance for UP to qualify with 26 points too but Bengal should get the better of Punjab, Baroda will have to beat Karnataka and Saurashtra shouldn’t lose to Tamil Nadu. NRR will go out of the picture straight away, letting UP go through. There will be a spanner in their works if Karnataka win against Baroda and the Punjab-Bengal game gets an outright winner, UP will be out of the race.
Tamil Nadu - 19 points
After the kind of start they had to this season, Tamil Nadu can blame no one but the image in the mirror to blame for finding themselves in such a sordid situation. Even if they secure a bonus point win against Saurashtra, it will not be enough to qualify and need many other results to go their way. So the equation for them now is - secure seven points and hope Karnataka, Punjab and UP lose their respective games. This way TN will be on 26 points to enter the knock-outs ahead of the other three. If they pick only six points from the encounter, they can still qualify if Karnataka, Punjab and UP lose their respective matches. Now, TN and Karnataka will be level at 25, leaving them to battle on the NRR front. Vidarbha, in case, they beat Hyderabad by a bonus point, will be another contender here to battle the tri-series of NRR and the best of the three will secure the honours.
Vidarbha -18 Points
It has already been a difficult situation for the defending champions going into the last round, with 18 points from seven games. While the chance to qualify is very low, they can thank their stars for having Hyderabad, who have lost six out of their seven games in the season so far, as their opponent in the crucial encounter. Now, the Faiz Fazal-led side will have to get the better of Hyderabad either by 10 wickets or an innings to stay alive in the contest, with regular prayer that Karnataka, Punjab, UP and TN lose their games.
Delhi - 18 Points
While the hangover of Delhi Elections will take time to die down, Delhi find themselves in a terrible position in the Ranji Trophy. They have 18 points so far and now need to beat Rajasthan with a bonus point and then hope Karnataka and Punjab lose their games. These many will not suffice too as the wish of UP and TN at most end up drawing their game should be granted. If you think that’s it, let me disappoint you - a Vidarbha bonus point win will crash their hopes straightaway. If God is kind and grants them these wishes, their players also need to ensure that they end with a higher NRR than Karnataka. It is as difficult a proposition as it gets and the best thing for Delhi is to go for the kill without burdening themselves.