Vijay Hazare Trophy 2020-21 | An in-depth low-down of the group stages

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Only 9 teams remain in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with 7 of those sides - Gujarat, Mumbai, Saurashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, UP and Kerala - having already booked their place in the quarter-final. Delhi will take on Uttarakhand to decide the final quarter-finalist in what has been a humdinger of a season.

In what proved to be one of the most closely contested group stages in the competition’s history, an astonishing 19 teams finished with 12 or more points, as qualification went right down to the wire with more than half the quarter-finalists being decided on the very final day of the group stages. Eventually, Gujarat, Mumbai, Saurashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, UP and Kerala turned out to be the lucky sides, but it was not just the dog-fight between the teams that made the group stages riveting.

There were a plethora of individuals who endured a breakthrough season, while, equally, a ton of other already-known talents further enhanced their reputation to remind the world just how strong the bench strength in Indian cricket is. We bring you a complete low-down of everything that unfolded in the group stages, including some mind-boggling numbers that need to be seen to be believed. 

Who are the teams that have qualified for the quarter-finals?

Gujarat, Mumbai, Saurashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala have directly qualified. Delhi will play Uttarakhand in a one-off eliminator game, the winner of which will progress to the next round as the eighth and last quarter-finalist.

But how were the quarter-finalists decided?

The teams were split into five Elite Groups and 1 plate group, so the qualification rules were as follows:

1) Each of the five toppers progresses directly to the quarter-finals

2) The second and third best teams apart from the group toppers (based on a combination of points and net run rate) will also progress directly to the quarter-finals.

3) The fourth-best team (apart from the group toppers) will lock horns with the winner of the plate group in a one-off knockout match for a birth in the quarter-finals.

Gujarat, Mumbai, Saurashtra, Andhra, and Karnataka all progressed directly by the virtue of finishing top of their respective groups, while Kerala and Uttar Pradesh qualified due to being the second and third best teams (outside of the group toppers). Delhi were the fourth-best team, so they will now take on the toppers of the Plate Group, Uttarakhand, on Sunday, March 7.  

Who were the best side in the group stages?

Mumbai. After crashing out in the group stages of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the star-studded domestic giants turned their fortunes around in the most emphatic fashion imaginable. They won each of their five group games and remarkably finished with an NRR of +2.603, the best for any side outside of the plate. Shades of the good ol’ invincible Bambaiya side. 

Who were the worst side in the group stages?

Bihar. Unfortunately, for the second Vijay Hazare season in a row, Bihar ended up losing every single one of their matches. They were, alongside Tripura, the only side (in Elite Groups) to lose all five matches and in many ways, they suffered five straight humiliations. Their NRR of -3.494 turned out to be by far the worst amongst all sides - including the plate division - and that their campaign ended by Kerala chasing down 149 in just 8.5 overs summed up their season. 

Which well-known teams ended up disappointing? 

Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Bengal. Much was expected from the DK-led TN side - 2019/20 finalists and SMAT 2021 champions - yet they kept fixing things that were not broken and that ultimately resulted in their demise. They won just 3 games, and even a mauling of Vidarbha on the final day wasn’t enough to ensure qualification. 

Punjab, meanwhile, despite boasting a world-class side on paper, won only 2 matches, failing to fulfill the promise they’d shown in the Syed Mushtaq Ali competition. It was also a tournament to forget for Bengal, who crashed out after suffering three heavy losses.  

Who was the highest run-getter in the group stages?

With 572 runs in 5 innings at a ludicrous average of 190.66 and an SR of 97.77, Devdutt Padikkal ended the group stages as the highest run-getter - and by some distance. Only once he FAILED to pass the 90-run mark - fifty-plus scores in all five matches - and he ended the group stages with scores of 152, 126* and 145*. Padikkal now needs 152 more runs to break the record for the most runs scored in a single Vijay Hazare Trophy season, which was set by Mayank Agarwal (723 runs) three years ago. 

Who struck the most number of centuries?

Of course, Devdutt Padikkal. As attested above, he finished the group stages off with three consecutive tons - almost four, was dismissed on 97 versus Bihar - and is now just one ton away from equalling the record for the most tons notched up in a single Vijay Hazare season. The current record holder? You guessed it right - Virat Kohli. 

Which player struck the highest individual score?

Prithvi Shaw played the most sizzling knock in Vijay Hazare history by striking a remarkable 227* versus Puducherry in Jaipur. Shaw’s 227* was the seventh highest List A score in cricket history and the highest ever by a captain. His knock featured an astounding 31 fours and 5 sixes and he provided an exhibition for the ages that will take some eclipsing. 

Were there any other memorable individual knocks?

Indeed. Madhya Pradesh's Venkatesh Iyer, on Sunday, came agonizingly close to becoming the second double-centurion of the season but was heart-shatteringly run out on 198. He blazed a full-strength Punjab attack, taking the likes of Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, and Markande for 20 fours and 7 sixes, and looked on course to even break Shaw’s 227* before falling two short of a maiden double-ton. 

Ishan Kishan’s 94-ball 173 on the very first day of the season was arguably even better. The pocket rocket torched the MP bowlers, striking 19 fours and 11 sixes, and went back to the pavilion in astonishingly just the 28th over of the game. Iyer missed out on a double, but Kishan, it could be said, missed out on a potential triple.  

Who hit the most number of sixes?

Yep, there’s a surprise in store here. With 23 sixes to his name, Robin Uthappa hit more sixes than any other batsman in the group stages. To be precise, Uthappa hit five more sixes than any other batsman in the competition. The ‘Robbie’ that turned up in the group stages was unlike any other Robbie in the past decade - brutal, aggressive and carefree - and he, arguably, had the biggest impact of any batsman in the competition. Yep, even more than Padikkal. CSK have really landed jackpot. 

Who had the best strike rate?

None other than Suryakumar Yadav. Mumbai’s top-order firing meant that SKY did not get the opportunity to pile on the runs, but boy he more than made up for it with some destructive hitting. His 332 runs came at a stupendous SR of 151.59 and it turned out to be, by far, the best of any batsman who piled on at least 150 runs. SKY also averaged 66.40 and struck a 50-ball ton which incidentally came in the same game as Shaw’s double ton.

Who took the most number of wickets?

With 18 wickets in 5 innings, Uttar Pradesh’s Shivam Sharma finished as the highest wicket-taker in the group stages. The 20-year-old left-arm spinner hadn’t played a single game of professional cricket prior to the 2021 Vijay Hazare - he was making his debut - but incredibly ended up out-bowling every other bowler in the competition. A story for the ages; a name to watch out for.

Who finished with the best bowling figures?

Shivam Sharma. Again. No bowler was able to match young Shivam’s figures of 7/31 versus Bihar but this is not the mind-numbing part. He also held the third-best figures in the competition - 6/22 which came in U.P’s do-or-die game versus Uttar Pradesh. 

Which team posted the highest total?

Mumbai’s 457/4 versus Puducherry turned out to be the highest total posted in the group stages. Not just that, it was also the highest ever total in Vijay Hazare Trophy history, and the fourth highest in List A cricket history. Shaw’s double century coupled with SKY’s 50-ball ton propelled Mumbai to the monster score, which helped them register a thumping 233-run victory.  

Which team posted the lowest total?

Bihar’s 87 was Karnataka ended up as the lowest score in the group stages of the 2021 Vijay Hazare Trophy. Bihar’s innings lasted just 27.2 overs, with only three batsmen passing double digits. Prasidh Krishna, who finished with figures of 4/17, dealt three early blows post which the Ashutosh Aman-led side never recovered. 

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