Can TN take the title this time?

For all the talent and cricketing infrastructure in the State, Tamil Nadu has triumphed only twice in the Ranji Trophy. And the last occasion when the feat was achieved was way back in the 1987-88 season.

Tamil Nadu coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar's bonding with bowling coach L. Balaji has got the team moving forward.   -  R. V. Moorthy

Will this finally be Tamil Nadu’s year? Can Abhinav Mukund and his men get their hands on the elusive Ranji Trophy?

They have certainly been more aggressive and pro-active than several Tamil Nadu teams from the past.

For all the talent and cricketing infrastructure in the State, Tamil Nadu has triumphed only twice in the Ranji Trophy. And the last occasion when the feat was achieved was way back in the 1987-88 season.

Since then, it has been a story of near misses for Tamil Nadu. There were several final appearances but the side “mentally” was not quite there.

This campaign, with coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar at the heart of it, has been different. Tamil Nadu has shown belief on the big occasions.

Having gone past the star-studded Karnataka on a seaming track here, Tamil Nadu should fancy its chances, whether it meets an injury-hit Mumbai side featuring several new names or Hyderabad, in the semifinal.

And whichever other side makes the summit clash, perhaps Gujarat or Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, if it gets past the semifinal hurdle, will enter the match the stronger side on paper.

And to think that the side has been without its two leading cricketers M. Vijay and R. Ashwin till this point. If these two stars join the team in the coming games, Tamil Nadu will be an even stronger force.

Kanitkar brings to the table an inherent toughness. He is a hard taskmaster but is also calm and fair. And his bonding with bowling coach L. Balaji has got the team moving forward.

The motto of this journey by Tamil Nadu, as Kanitkar explained, has not been about personal milestones or records. It’s about collective performances and enjoying each other’s success; aspects that have been lacking in several Tamil Nadu teams from the past.

The planning and execution have been very evident. Tamil Nadu’s young pace trio has been instructed to persistently probe in the ‘corridor’ on the lively neutral venue tracks. The discipline in the attack — line and length have largely been impeccable — has put the opposing line-ups under stress. And sharp catches have been held in the slip cordon.

The genial Balaji has shared his knowledge and experience with the young trio of Aswin Crist, K. Vignesh and T. Natarajan.

Crist, with his high arm action and strong wrist position, hits the seam more often than not. He has 34 wickets so far at 25.70.

In his maiden Ranji season, Vignesh has been a revelation with his control and intensity. He either bowls just back-of-a-length or on a good length and extracts away movement and bounce from the off-stump. Vignesh has a stunning 37 wickets at 19.93.

Natarajan — 23 wickets at 29.95 — brings with him extra pace and the left-armer’s angle. He lends an additional dimension to the attack.

The two experienced men in the line-up Abhinav (689 runs at 62.63) and Dinesh Karthik (664 at 60.36) have pulled their weight. And Kaushik Gandhi (726 runs at 60.50) has been dependable at No. 3.

Tamil Nadu also has the smooth-stroking Vijay Shankar, who has so much time to strike the ball, and B. Indrajith, an organised, efficient batsman.

Indeed, this might be Tamil Nadu's best chance to lift the Ranji Trophy again. But then the side has to get its end game right.