With 700 plus players set to represent 28 teams in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy, the national selectors will have their task cut out to identity a group of back-ups to be in line with coach Anil Kumble's vision. ESPNcricinfo looks at five players who could have a breakthrough season.
Kuldeep first rose to prominence at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup with his left-arm wristspin, to finish as the joint second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament. One of few positives in a disappointing campaign, Kuldeep was expected to become a regular in Uttar Pradesh's first-class set-up almost immediately. But two seasons on, opportunities continue to remain elusive, partly because conditions up north, where UP have played a bulk of their matches. The presence of Piyush Chawla, the captain and legspinner, has also somewhat stunted his progress. But his performances at IPL 2016, where he delivered at key moments for Kolkata Knight Riders, and his start to the season with the Duleep Trophy - he picked up 17 wickets in three matches - have resulted in some hope. With Anil Kumble impressing on the need to have a pool of match-ready back-ups, Kuldeep's performances could be closely monitored should he earn the state selectors' nod.
"It's strange that I'm recognised as a Delhi Daredevils batsman than Karnataka opener," Mayank Agarwal said last year after questions were raised over his batting style: more suited to the shorter formats. Those doubts may have been put on the back burner for the time being though. Agarwal came into his own during the season-opening Duleep Trophy, where he struck 420 runs in five innings, including a career-best 161.
That he featured in just 19 first-class games since his debut in November 2013 was largely due to Karnataka's top-heavy batting line-up. The presence of KL Rahul and Robin Uthappa coupled with Agarwal's inability to build on starts led to him being left out at various stages during Karnataka's treble-winning run in 2014 and 2015. With Rahul likely to slot back in to India's Test line-up for the England series once he recovers from a hamstring injury, and Manish Pandey and Karun Nair in the mix for a middle-order berth, Agarwal will be one of the batting lynchpins. Having already represented India A in the limited-overs tri-series last year against Australia and South Africa, where he was the highest run-getter, consistent scores for Karnataka could further help him break into the national team.
If performances are the criterion for selection, Shreyas Iyer has done most things asked of him in his first two Ranji Trophy seasons. He followed up his debut season, where he made 809 runs, to become the highest run-getter last season (1321 runs), with four centuries, including a one from a dire situation in the final against Saurashtra in Pune. Only VVS Laxman's tally of 1415 runs for Hyderabad in 1999-2000 is higher than Iyer's. In his innings of 117 in the final, he also went past the Mumbai record for most runs in a season, held by Wasim Jaffer (1260 runs in 2008-09). Iyer scored those runs at an average of 73.78 and strike rate of 92.70. The impressive performances have earned him a call-up to the India A team. Another impressive Ranji Trophy season could make it hard for the selectors to ignore him.
The tall offspinner from Haryana has been on the radar since 2014, and is currently part of India's Test squad for the home series against New Zealand. That he finds himself on the fringes was largely due to his performances for India A in Australia, where he picked seven wickets in two outings. Prior to that, he was part of India's squad for the limited-overs series in Zimbabwe.
Swinging conditions in Lahli have somewhat prevented him from bowling long spells, but he has used those opportunities to channelise his batting too - his career best of 211 not out in his second first-class season against Karnataka in 2012 being an indication of his potential. His threat with the ball has surfaced when Haryana have played away. With matches set to be played at neutral venues this season, Jayant has an opportunity to further boost his claim.
He first rose to prominence in 2014-15, when he began the season with a six-for and took 13 wickets against Saurashtra in Rajkot. He was rewarded with selection for the India A squad for the home series against South Africa A and Bangladesh A last year. Jayant earned a berth in the India A squad for the tour of Australia in July-August this year after his season-ending performance in March; he claimed eight wickets for Rest of India against Mumbai in the Irani Cup, and remained unbeaten on 19 when his side completed their historic chase of 480.
The Rajasthan pace bowler is widely regarded as one of the fastest in India today, but apprehensions have been raised about him going a similar way to Munaf Patel. Perhaps this is why his second full first-class season could be crucial to his development. He impressed in the Duleep Trophy, picking up eight wickets including a six-wicket haul in the opener. The manner in which he hustled the batsmen for pace and swung the ball late earned praise from selectors and opposition captains. He was complimented for the same qualities when he played for the Board President's XI in a tour game against South Africa in Mumbai last year. He will be key to Rajasthan's bowling fortunes this season along with captain Pankaj Singh.