Eliminated without a win: Where it went wrong for Tamil Nadu

R Ashwin celebrates with team-mates Sivaraman Kitta

From trampling a full-strength Karnataka side to storm into the Ranji Trophy semi-finals and subsequently securing the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar titles last season, Tamil Nadu crashed out of this Ranji season in the league phase without a win. ESPNcricinfo looks at what went wrong for Tamil Nadu.

Lack of penetration in the bowling attack

The bowling attack's form - or the lack of it - encapsulated Tamil Nadu's horror season. Injuries to their first-choice seamers Aswin Crist and T Natarajan, who had combined for 62 wickets in 2016-17, hurt them. The back-ups and spinners lacked penetration.

K Vignesh, only in his second season of first-class cricket, showed some spark with 24 wickets in six games, but that did not mask the inadequacies in the attack. Tamil Nadu managed to take all 20 wickets just once in six attempts. In their season opener against Andhra and later against Mumbai, even R Ashwin struggled to make inroads. The other frontline spinners fared worse: Rahil Shah and R Sai Kishore had averages of 54.33 and 86.33 respectively.

Constant chopping and changing

With M Vijay, Ashwin, and allrounder Vijay Shankar part of the India squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka, and Dinesh Karthik rehabilitating at the NCA after sustaining a hip strain, Tamil Nadu were forced to field depleted XIs at various junctures. Only four players - captain Abhinav Mukund, vice-captain B Indrajith, allrounder Washington Sundar, and Vignesh - played each of Tamil Nadu's six matches.

In the clash against Odisha in Cuttack, N Jagadeesan - understudy to Karthik - rolled his ankle and R Rohit, drafted in as substitute wicketkeeper, dropped two catches, allowing the hosts to snatch the first-innings advantage.

The opening slot was a revolving door, and also affected the team's balance. They used as many as five openers, including Jagadeesan, B Aparajith, and Washington, in six matches.

Letting the opposition off the hook

Tamil Nadu had their chances but failed to seize the important moments - a trait that defined their previous season. They pinned down Andhra to 64 for 5 in the first innings but allowed the last five wickets to haul the score beyond 300. They ran up 357 for 4 declared at a run rate of just over four against Tripura, but rain and bad light in Chennai halted their push for an outright win.

Then, despite piling up 530 for 8 declared against Odisha, they wound up conceding the first-innings lead with 17-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Rajesh Dhuper rallying the tail. The trend continued against Madhya Pradesh and Baroda as well.

"We were very inconsistent in terms of performances and we went back to performing below our level," coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar said. "We couldn't sustain the good we did. Too often we had the opposition five down and we let them get away from us. At crucial stages, when they were five or six down, we gave away boundaries. Within three or four overs they got 20-25 runs. Those five boundaries or 30 runs make a huge difference when you look at it now"

Over-reliance on the middle order

Abhinav's prolonged lean patch mirrored his team's winless season: he managed only 247 runs in nine innings at 30.87, leaving the middle and the lower order to clean up the mess. The Baba twins - Indrajith and Aparajith - struck 822 runs between them and Yo Mahesh ground out two centuries lower down the order, but they were left with too much to do. The coup de grace came when the entire batting line-up capsized against the moving ball, against Baroda in Vadodara.