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    Ranji Trophy, round 5: Andhra, Services out to topple Assam

    New Delhi: The fifth round of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season gets underway across the country on Saturday, with the previous round having resulted in some thrilling wins. Twelve teams have posted outright wins so far, and at the halfway stage those who have not will need to put in something special to stay afloat. Here’s a look at the Group C matches starting December 1. Andhra v Goa at Visakhapatnam: Defeat to table-toppers Assam in round three and Andhra’s maiden win of the season lessened the gap at the top of Group C, leaving Andhra and Services on 14 points each compared to Assam’s 16. An innings victory over Jammu & Kashmir propelled Andhra to second place, and they will now look to make it two wins in row over Gpa who have seven points from three matches. Andhra’s bowling has been carried by spearhead P Vijaykumar, with supporting roles from 22-year-old medium-pacer Duvvarapu Shivkumar and veteran seamer Syed Sabahuddin. Against J&K, left-arm quick Atchuta Rao and offspinner Shail Basha took wickets to hasten victory on day three. Amol Muzumdar’s twin centuries against Himachal Pradesh in round three made him the leading run-getter in Ranji Trophy history, and he and B Sumanth have strung together three successive century partnerships. It appears Andhra are getting it together in time to remain in the reckoning for a quarter-final spot. Goa will hope that three points from a draw with Kerala, in which they were able to enforce the follow on, has given them the desired punch. A maiden century from Rohit Asnodkar and a second to Sagun Kamat gave Goa positives from the draw, and the fact that all their batsmen have scored runs is heartening. Assam v Jammu & Kashmir at Guwahati: After losing to Services in round four, leaders Assam have returned home to familiar conditions and will bank on their spinners to continue plugging away. Assam’s lead over Andhra and Services is just two points in a very tight upper half of Group C, but they are favorites to beat a struggling J&K. The match in Delhi was lost when Assam were bowled out for 182 and 170, their lowest and third lowest totals of the seasons. The bowlers too were unable to apply sufficient pressure on the home team’s batsmen, but back at the venue where they opened the season with a ten-wicket win over Tripura, Assam will be hopeful of victory against a team in disarray. J&K have been the poorest of Group C teams, losing two of three matches, and the defeat to Andhra came in the absence of several players, including captain Samiullah Beig, who boycotted the match citing regional bias at the hands of the selectors and coach Bishen Singh Bedi. The rumblings of yet another Kashmir versus Jammu row looks set to take the team further into the mire. Services v Kerala at Delhi: Services’ first bonus-point win since 2006 has reinvigorated their campaign, and now they are out to lord it over Kerala at home. The bowlers set up the win by dismissing Assam for 182 and 170, and the batsmen weighed in to secure a ten-wicket win. Services’ veteran Yashpal Singh and captain Soumik Chatarjee believe the win is the tonic needed for changing the team’s fortunes in 2012-13, and they go into the match as favorites. Kerala are coming off a draw against Goa, which gave them a solitary point. With seven points from three matches their season is not over but a dramatic upswing is needed. Himachal Pradesh v Tripura at Nadaun: Himachal Pradesh return home to Nadaun after a draw against Jamshedpur, and with 10 points from four wins they need to start pushing for wins if they aspire to make the knock-out stage. The batting continues to be Himachal’s forte. Their trip to Ranchi resulted in three points courtesy a first-innings total of 422 for 7 fashioned by centuries to Rishi Dhawan and Prashant Chopra, but also boosting the team was a six-wicket haul from the former. Himachal have failed to close out victories in three prior matches at Nadaun. Against Tripura, who have two wins from three matches, they have a great chance to jump up the points table. Ajay Ratra’s team has managed to not lose a further match after the drubbing in Guwahati, but the have been the losers in terms of points in their subsequent matches. They made 260 and 170 for 4 against Andhra’s 436 in round two, and in the third took another single point after conceding 563 for 4 to Services. The batting clicked in reply with 484, but up against the most formidable line-up in the group it is the struggling bowlers who look set to be taken to task.