Ranji Trophy 2018-19: Group C leaders Rajasthan eye fourth win in a row
The Rajasthan squad after the historic chase over Services.

Group C table-toppers Rajasthan are backing themselves for a fourth successive victory in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy when they meet hosts and second-placed Uttar Pradesh at Kanpur on November 28 (Wednesday).

If they do so, it will mark just the third instance in the past seven seasons that a Ranji Trophy team wins its first four matches.

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Since the start of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season, when the BCCI moved from the traditional two-division Elite and Plate Group format, only two teams have started a season with four consecutive wins – Saurashtra and Karnataka.

In the 2015-16 edition, Saurashtra beat Tripura by an innings and 118 runs, Jharkhand by eight wickets, Hyderabad by 35 runs and Services by four wickets. They made it to the semi-final stage where Mumbai beat them by an innings on the way to the title.

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In 2014-15, Karnataka defeated Tamil Nadu by 285 runs, Bengal by nine wickets, Railways by 136 runs and Jammu & Kashmir by an innings and 30 runs. That strong start helped R Vinay Kumar’s team stay on top of Group A even though their next four matches were drawn. In the quarter-finals they beat Assam on first-innings points, beat heavyweights Mumbai in the semi-finals by 112 runs and then in the final, they beat Tamil Nadu by an innings and 217 runs to claim the Ranji Trophy.

Rajasthan, led by former India Under-19 World Cup player Mahipal Lomror, have made a strong start to the current season with three wins in a row.  In their first match at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, Rajasthan beat Jammu & Kashmir by 75 runs. In round two, a five-wicket win over Services completed the third-highest chase in Ranji Trophy history and put Rajasthan at second place in Group C. Bowled out for 135 in reply to Services’ first innings of 228, Rajasthan were then set a target of 357 after Services made 264. A five-wicket win completed the third-highest chase in Ranji Trophy history.

And last week, they beat Jharkhand in Ranchi by 92 runs to displace Uttar Pradesh at the top of the Group C table – though by just one point. As with the last win, this one came after Rajasthan put up a low score (100) in their first innings and conceded the lead. A stirring fightback in the second, however, set Jharkhand a target of 328 which proved out of reach on the final day.

“It has been a very promising start to the season and the team’s confidence is very high,” the senior batsman Robin Bist told CricketCountry. “To win three matches in a row was not what anyone thought was possible. I have never seen such a good mix of young talent and senior experience in the Rajasthan camp. It’s a great feeling. Next up is UP who are a good team and they are playing at home, so it will be tough.”

Over the seven Ranji Trophy seasons, the other teams to have started with a hat-trick of wins are Gujarat in 2017-18 (by four wickets over Kerala, an innings and 64 runs over J&K and 238 runs over Haryana) and Delhi in 2014-15 (over Saurashtra by nine wickets, Rajasthan by an innings and seven runs and Gujarat by an innings and 109 runs).