India's premier domestic competition has reverted to the Elite-Plate format with the nine new teams - Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim and Uttarakhand - comprising the Plate group while the remaining 28 have been divided into three Elite groups A, B and C.

Table-toppers from Group C will earn promotion to Elite Groups A and B for the next season. The group includes Assam, Goa, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Services, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh.

Ranji Trophy: Marathon new season starts amid confusion

These 10 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.

Read: Ranji Trophy - 'A' group of heavyweights

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 part of the India- A set up and will travel with the team to New Zealand for the four three-day games.

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.

Also read: Group B - Balanced and brimming with title contenders

That gives the likes of Uttar Pradesh (2005-06 champion), Services, Haryana and Jharkhand a chance to rattle the established teams.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan's form in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy, coupled with 29-year-old spinner Shahbaz Nadeem's glut of wickets, will hold Jharkhand in good stead.

Nadeem has been included in the Indian team for the forthcoming three T20 internationals against West Indies, while Kishan has been named in the India-A squad.

Jharkhand — considered the cricketing backwaters of India until the early 2000s — was fast-tracked into the limelight with the ascent of M.S. Dhoni and will hope to emulate its Vijay Hazare form, where it topped Group C with 32 points from nine matches, but lost to Delhi in the semifinal.

READ: Plate Group: Nine teams ready for biggest challenge yet

Left-arm spinner Pappu Roy, who was part of the India C squad in the Deodhar Trophy, will be a star attraction. The 23-year-old Odisha bowler snapped up 14 wickets on his List A debut at an average of 18.42 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2018-19. A Ranji debut will put a pleasing gloss to his already enthralling rags-to-riches tale.

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 85th season of the Ranji Trophy kickstarts on Thursday.