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Saurashtra are firm favourites

Jaipur: Bolstered by the return of in-form Cheteshwar Pujara and old warhorse Siddharth Trivedi, Saurashtra will start as favourites against defending champions Rajasthan in a Group A match of Ranji Trophy, starting here, from Saturday.

The visitors are eyeing a huge victory against Rajasthan, who looked jaded and are languishing at the bottom of the group with five points from six outings.

Saurashtra, on the other hand, have 16 points from six matches and are very much in the running for a place in the knock-out stage of the tournament. They need a win in their remaining two matches to stay in the hunt for a place in the quarter finals.

Title holders Rajasthan, who surprised the cricketing world by winning the coveted Ranji Trophy for the last two consecutive years, were dented heavily by the absence of Akash Chopra, who opted to play for Himachal Pradesh this season.

Sans Chopra, Rajasthan’s batting has never looked solid in the tournament so far and injuries here and there have added to their woes.

The likes of Robin Bisht and Vineet Saxena, who were in tremendous form last year, are not in the best of touch and veteran Rashmi Ranjan Parida too has not been consistent enough.

In Chennai, table-toppers Uttar Pradesh will be aiming to seal their berth in the knockout stage when they take on Tamil Nadu in their penultimate Group B match.

Last year’s finalists, Tamil Nadu are at the sixth spot among eight teams with 13 points from just one win out of their six outings so far. Though Uttar Pradesh won just two of their six matches, they are topping the table with 21 points.

For Tamil Nadu, outright wins in this match and their next game against Haryana would boost their chances of making the next grade.

Uttar Pradesh batsmen have been in form but they will be missing the services of Suresh Raina in this match.

The regular venue of the matches, M A Chidambaram stadium, is under preparation for the first India-Pakistan ODI on December 30.

Therefore, the wicket at the IIT Chemplast, would be to Tamil Nadu's advantage as most of its players know the behaviour of the track as the it has been a permanent venue for local league fixtures.

(agencies)