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Learnings from Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy’s quarter-final clashes ft Motera Stadium

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Vishnu Solanki with the clutch for Baroda

BCCI

Learnings from Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy’s quarter-final clashes ft Motera Stadium

After battling it across five venues, eight teams arrived in Ahmedabad to inaugurate the New Motera Stadium and they battled, there were plenty of sights on offer - good swing bowling, crazy power-hitting and incredible run-chases on the very last delivery of the game.

Tamil Nadu’s batting depth

Coming into the quarter-final clash against Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu were always going to be favourites but their past against the opposition - made this contest an even one. While the ball wasn’t doing anything crazy in the early part of the first innings, Sonu Yadav’s spell surely showed a way for the Himachal bowlers on how to go about things. TN’s opener Jagadeesan, who scored 322 runs this season, failed and so did his partner, who had scored 207. Dinesh Karthik, who scored 135 this season too failed, with Baba Aparajith and Shahrukh Khan put under the direst of situations and incredible pressure. 

Walking in at 66/5, Shahrukh Khan changed the complexion of the game, with 19-ball 40 runs, with five boundaries and two sixes. Since he walked in to bat, the entire game seemingly looked frustrating for the Himachal bowlers, who until that point were dominating the game. It only goes on to show the depth that the state has in terms of it’s batting. With the right-handed batsman, they have just added one more capable one to the list, which would come daunting to the other teams, starting from Rajasthan. 

Mahipal Lomror’s ‘golden’ axe

If Shahrukh Khan did it while chasing, Mahipal Lomror did it in the first innings, under the same amount of pressure for Rajasthan. They didn’t have either of the Chahars - Rahul or Deepak but it wasn’t even required with their batting display. On the day, the duo of Bharat Sharma and Ankit Lamba did get them off to a steady start but once Bharat was dismissed, Menaria too didn’t trouble the scorers, putting Mahipal Lomror under immense pressure. The left-handed all-rounder had played three games in the IPL but with a run tally of 59 runs, he definitely did not aid his own confidence. However, put under the pressure, he came out shining, with his golden axe.

He took on every bowler equally, put on a show, scored a 37-ball 78 on the tricky surfaces and ensured that his team had more than enough total to defend. All of this, on the back of the Royals confidence in him, would not only make the franchise happy but the all-rounder as well. His performance, not just set up a date with Tamil Nadu in the semi-final but also showed his worth, all in gold. 

Baroda’s never-say-die attitude

No Deepak Hooda, no Hardik Pandya or Krunal Pandya and yet Baroda showed that they deserve a place in the semi-final stage of the competition. And mind you, it wasn’t easy but everyone put their hands upon the night, which arguably has been the theme of their tournament thus far. They just had 148 to chase but the pitch wasn’t easy, it was the tricky part of the day where they had to pick the right bowlers and ultimately left it too late. In the first innings, it was their bowlers, who clutched the scoring rate back after leaving Haryana right into the game. In the second innings, after 15 overs, they were 101/2, chasing 149. However, the scoring rate became tough and the runs seemingly turned into gold dust. 

Last three balls, they needed 16 runs and despite the odds stacked against them, Vishnu Solanki, who was on 55, scored 6,4,6 to take his run tally to 71 on the night and take them home. If that’s not an inspirational innings, then what is?

Punjab’s KO punch 

It was a tale of two innings - Punjab and Karnataka, with the two sides having already clashed once in the group stage. It was a clear sign of what was about to transpire in the first of the four quarter-finals. Punjab, led by Mandeep Singh were on the punch, jumping guns in the very first part of the innings with their bowling. 24/1 turned 26/4 and from thereon, the Punjab bowlers kept attacking at every possible juncture. Just 87 runs - that’s all they conceded to last year’s champions - Karnataka - prompting a bigger doubt, was Punjab that good or Karnataka, not upto the mark? 

However, by the end of the bout, it was pretty darn clear that Punjab packed a punch, that too a knock-out in the knockouts, pulling off an easy chase in under 13 overs, to show that batting was not really that tough. And with the ball, it was a combined effort from the pace unit - Sandeep Sharma, Arshdeep Singh and Siddarth Kaul to maul Karnataka. A side to look out in the semi-final and possibly final too?

Karnataka’s fall from heaven

How to fall from grace on your face? Karnataka just did that, in spectacular fashion and the fact that two players would make such a massive difference is an underlying issue for them. With the absence of KL Rahul and Manish Pandey, who were part of the Indian squad in the last two months, Karun Nair took over the reins and pretty much underperformed, across all aspects. With the ball, seldom did Karnataka close down the opposition in the sublime of form and with the batting, barring the brilliance from Devdutt Padikkal, there was nothing transpiring and inspiring. 

Karun Nair’s performance and personal form would surely come under the scanner, with the right-hander arguably in one of the worst patches of his cricketing career. 12, 21, 15, 5, 13, 27 - that’s what he has achieved in the tournament, which makes his future in the shortest format a real worry. If Karnataka are to make a grand comeback in the next year’s competition, they need to figure out a right plan. 

New Motera’s love for swing bowlers

There’s something really in the pitch, isn’t it? The New Motera stadium is a thing of joy, everyone adored the first ball bowled but one thing that caught the eye - pacers really relish on the pitch. The ball was really doing stuff, it was swinging and had the pace to catch batsmen by real surprise and was visible throughout the four quarterfinals. In the first of the four quarters, there was the pace trio of - Arshdeep Singh, Siddarth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma - taking utmost advantage of the conditions. Swing on offer was evidently visible, something that remained a theme throughout the other matches too.

In Tamil Nadu’s clash against Himachal Pradesh, the former, who are reliant on their spinners to do the job, instead had a hero emerge out of the shadows in the form of Sonu Yadav, who picked up 3 wickets, conceding just 14 runs. That combined with the spell from Vaibhav Arora showed that if the pacers indeed put their efforts, they were sure-shot going to be rewarded, at least equally if not more. With the pink-ball Test being played at the venue, James Anderson must really have loved the insights that the English analysts are currently processing. 

Spinner’s toil

Now with pace becoming a rather quick theme of the play-off stages, it’s counterpart spin had to take the backseat. There is indeed enough support to them but all of it comes at the cost of control and incredible skill set. Across the four games, not all spinners came out with wickets. In Punjab’s encounter, there was just Mayank Markande, who picked up a wicket in the entire contest, with all the other wickets going to pace bowlers. Tamil Nadu’s spinners picked up just a solitary wicket while Mayank Daggar was the only one from Himachal to be on the list. 

On day 2, it was not a very different story, with the spinners getting very few purchases from the surface. Barring Kartik Kakade, who managed to pick up two wickets, it was a rather dry pitch for spinners. However, that is when Yuzvendra Chahal showcased his skills, his experience and temperament which would get the better of the conditions. Four overs, just 15 runs and one wicket, that really showed that there was something on offer to spinners who varied their pace and line.

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