India's premier domestic competition has reverted to the Elite-Plate format with 10 teams — Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim and Goa including first-timer Chandigarh — comprising the Plate group while the remaining 28 have been divided into three Elite groups A, B and C.
These sides may not boast of a plethora of international players in their squads and might lack the rich cricketing legacies of Karnataka, Mumbai and Gujarat, but could spring a surprise or two.
One needs to look no further than Team Rajasthan which, in 2011, hurtled to the top and clinched the Ranji honours. The local talent in Deepak Chahar, Ashok Menaria and Pankaj Singh had turned the tide in favour of the 'underdog'.
Chahar, today, is a regular in India's limited-overs squad and could even feature in the World T20 in Australia next year.
While the big teams have quality and depth, they are often hamstrung by the unavailability of their 'stars' , who are either on National duty or called upon midway through the tournament.
Individually, the players will look to impress the National selectors as well as the IPL scouts who are known to frequent far-flung grounds in search of talent.
There's plenty to look forward to when the 86th season of the Ranji Trophy kickstarts on Monday.
Players to watch out for:
Vinay Kumar (Puducherry): Veteran pace bowler R. Vinay Kumar bid adieu to Karnataka cricket after 15 long years and moved to Puducherry as a player and mentor. Vinay, who made his first-class debut for Karnataka in 2004, played 106 Ranji Trophy games for the State side, behind only Sunil Joshi (117). He has 459 wickets from 130 first-class matches.
Bipul Sharma (Chandigarh): Sharma is a utility player and Chandigarh can gain from the all-rounder's IPL experience (Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab) to help tackle the long format.