UP hope to beat 2012-13's knockout blues
Where they finished last time
Uttar Pradesh topped Group B last year without losing a match. Their successful run was ended by Services in the quarter-finals.
UP started the 2012-13 season with a bang, beating Delhi, who featured all the big stars - Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Ashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma. Two draws later, they handed Baroda a 10-wicket loss and after another two draws, thrashed Tamil Nadu by 195 runs.
But they fell in the first knockout, to a spirited Services side. Much of their success came courtesy Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who took 27 wickets in six games at an average of 20. This year it is likely they will have to cope without him for long periods, when he is away on India duty.
Openers Tanmay Srivastava and Mukul Dagar had prolific seasons but the middle order couldn't always build on their platforms. Parvinder Singh righted some of that imbalance when he started scoring in the second half of the season. His recent hundred in the draw against the touring West Indians will give him and the team confidence, along with the wickets taken by RP Singh and Piyush Chawla.
RP Singh missed the previous Ranji season with injury but looks "extremely fit" this year, coach Venkatesh Prasad said. Praveen Kumar, though, is out for a couple of months with a shoulder injury. While the pace attack has other promising options such as Imtiaz Ahmed and Ankit Rajpoot, UP's spin hopes will rest with Chawla and left-arm spinner Ali Murtaza, who didn't enjoy much success last season.
Players to watch
The team will be led by Suresh Raina, who has frequently reiterated his desire to play Test cricket. For that, though, he is not making the kind of impact he should in long-format matches. He averaged 33.77 from 10 innings last Ranji season. With India soon heading off on overseas tours in tough conditions, he'll need a truckload of runs for UP to get the selector's attention. The retirement of Sachin Tendulkar will open up a spot in the middle order, but can Raina put himself in contention?
In the absence of Bhuvneshwar and Praveen Kumar, and RP Singh having played only one first-class match in nearly two years, there will be plenty of expectations on UP's relatively unheralded pair of quicks, Imtiaz Ahmed and Ankit Rajpoot. While Imtiaz was their most impressive bowler through the season, Rajpoot made headlines in only seven outings with 31 wickets at an average of 18.80.
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Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo