Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Knockouts: Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra start favourites

Two-time champion Karnataka is expected to assert its superiority over the reigning Ranji Trophy champion Saurashtra for a place in the quarterfinals of the Syed Mushtaq Ali (T20) Trophy at the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.

The other two quarterfinal spots will be decided after Kerala takes on underdog Himachal Pradesh at the Air Force ground and a confident Maharashtra plays an almost untested Vidarbha in the morning at the Kotla.

Under skipper Manish Pandey, Karnataka has the resources to go all the way despite the late replacements for Mayank Agarwal, Devdutt Padikkal, Prasidh Krishna and K. Gowtham.

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For the record, Karnataka started out by drubbing Mumbai and followed it up with victories over Chattisgarh, Services and Baroda before losing to Bengal and finishing second best in Group B.

Karnataka’s batting could well be tested by the pace duo of Jaydev Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya on a placid Kotla pitch in a match that begins at noon. Saurashtra impressed with the way it bounced back after losing its campaign-opener to Hyderabad in Group E. Triumphs over Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh kept alive its chances before it went on to upstage Delhi.

Saurashtra’s line-up has Sheldon Jackson whose flamboyant style and range of strokes had kept him in the mix before the National selectors. Overall, Saurashtra will have to punch way above its weight to hurt Karnataka.

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An unpredictable Kerala, which relies heavily on opener Robin Uthappa, skipper Sanju Samson and Sachin Baby to get the job done, will have the advantage of having played at the Air Force ground in the league.

Kerala showed great character in bouncing back from a spot of serious bother. It lost two of its first three matches to Group D topper Gujarat and unexpectedly to Railways. Victories over Bihar and Assam kept Kerala in contention and it qualified following a second eight-wicket victory in successive days to knock out Madhya Pradesh.

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Himachal, too, advanced to the knockout despite losing twice – to Haryana and Rajasthan – in the first three matches. But victory against Jharkhand, and those against Jammu & Kashmir and Andhra in the last two matches ensured Himachal’s survival.

Runner-up in 2018-19 season, Maharashtra had up for the false start. After losing the opener narrowly to Group A topper Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra made it way past Punjab, Odisha, Pondicherry and Goa.

For Plate group topper Vidarbha, Maharashtra will be its first serious test. Vidarbha understands those resounding victories over Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Sikkim do not count for  much.

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