New Delhi: The 84th edition of Ranji Trophy that begins on Friday will see a plethora of Indian cricket stars in action besides the return of the home and away format.
India play their next Test from November 16 and that has allowed the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Cheteshwar Pujara to get some additional match practice and contribute to their state team's campaign in the premier domestic tournament.
Besides Ashwin, the presence of Test opener Murali Vijay will further bolster Tamil Nadu, who play their tournament opener at home against Andhra. Abhinav Mukund, India's reserve opener in the recent Test series against Sri Lanka, will captain Tamil Nadu.
Pujara, who like Ashwin had a fruitful county stint in England, will captain Saurashtra in the absence of Jaydev Shah. Giving him company will be left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who suddenly finds himself out of the national ODI and T20 squad.
Test keeper Wriddhiman Saha and pacer Mohammed Shami will turn up for Bengal in the team's first round match against Services at Palam.
Ishant Sharma, India's leading speedster not so long ago, will lead the Delhi squad with Gautam Gambhir declining captaincy for another season.
Sharma will be itching to perform after not getting a game in the three Test series against Sri Lanka. The lanky pacer has not been part of India's limited overs set up for a long time now, having played his last ODI in January 2016 and T20 back in 2013.
The tournament is definitely high on international flavour and what should make it more interesting for the fans is the return of the home and away format after the failed experiment of neutral venues last year.
The move to play at neutral venues turned out to be a logistical nightmare while big names like Mukund and Axar Patel also complained of lack of apathy of the state association which was hosting the game.
Irfan Pathan, who is set to lead Baroda again, welcomed the return of the traditional format but said the neutral venue concept was worth a try.
"If something new was not tried, then we would not have found out the issues in implementing it. So it was a worth a try and my main issue with the move was that curators, in their attempt to stretch the game to four days, ended up preparing pitches where close to 800 runs were scored more often than not. So that was not good for cricket," Pathan told PTI.
"Now we are back to the old format which is fantastic for the youngsters. The fans can see their home team in action and even for the players, it will be nice to play in front of a decent crowd," he added referring to the lack of crowds at neutral venues.
This time all teams will play equal number of matches with 28 sides divided into four groups and top two in each pool will make the quarterfinals.
Additional weightage has also been given to Ranji Trophy with fringe India players told to be part of as many First- Class games as possible.
It is for this reason that Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer has been appointed India A captain only for the first three games of the five-match series New Zealand. After doing the India A duty, Iyer will travel to Indore for Mumbai's opener against MP beginning Oct 14.
It remains to be seen whether the tournament will produce another first-time winner like the previous season when Gujarat humbled record champions Mumbai for their maiden title.