Once domestic giants, Tamil Nadu are in shambles now. A season that began with a stutter against Andhra in the Ranji Trophy opener came to a screeching halt against the same opposition in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy on Sunday. This after Tamil Nadu had ransacked Karnataka to make the Ranji Trophy semi-finals and clinched the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy titles in 2016-17. A certain Murphy S. Law took a special liking to the Tamil Nadu side this season, and everything that could go wrong went wrong.
"It [the season] has taught me what all can go wrong and what all might not fall in place," coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar said after Tamil Nadu were knocked out of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. "Definitely we haven't played to our capabilities. We have been lacking in everything." ESPNcricinfo dissects Tamil Nadu's cataclysmic fall.
Injuries, unavailability of key players
In their must-win fixture against Andhra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Tamil Nadu were missing five key players - M Vijay (shoulder strain), R Ashwin (personal leave), Abhinav Mukund (shoulder injury), B Indrajith (shoulder injury), Vijay Shankar (back spasm) - and were left scrambling for a captain. In fact, vice-captain B Indrajith wasn't fit for the entire limited-overs leg of the season while Ranji Trophy captain Abhinav hasn't played since the league phase of the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Dinesh Karthik, who was the flag bearer of Tamil Nadu's rise in 2016-17, played only six matches this season because of national commitments and rehabilitation at the NCA.
Nonetheless, Tamil Nadu had the services of Vijay and Ashwin for the first half of the Ranji season and large parts of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Did the presence - or absence - of the two stars shake up the team combination?
"It [team combination] doesn't get affected much but the players admire these two very much," Kanitkar said. "So because of that if they change their way on how they play unknowingly or knowingly then it can make a difference. Maybe they would want to impress these guys and they may not be their natural self. If such a thing is affecting players then they have to talk about it and sort it out."
Letting the opposition off the hook
You may have read about this on these pages before, and the trend seeped into the Vijay Hazare Trophy. One area where Tamil Nadu were totally exposed compared to the other top teams was in the fielding. In the match against Madhya Pradesh, they reprieved Rajat Patidar on 39 and 112 and watched him score an unbeaten 158 to secure MP in a chase of 303. Then against Andhra, Tamil Nadu repeated the same mistake: they dropped Srikar Bharat on 5 and 13 and watched him land the knockout blow with 82.
"I felt fielding is something that you do for the team," Kanitkar summed up the fielding woes. "Bowling or batting you might do for yourself, but fielding you always do it for the team, it's never for yourself. I think that's where we have lacked."
Players sensitive to criticism
A critical part of any team's set-up is communication. Kanitkar has indirectly hinted that some of Tamil Nadu's players were unwilling to take the blame. Kanitkar, who had played for Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in a 146-match first-class career, said Tamil Nadu's players "need to be more receptive to criticism".
"In Maharashtra and other places, nobody is beyond reproach from anybody," Kanitkar said. "It doesn't matter if I'm an international player, if I'm not playing to my potential and if my efforts are not good there will always be somebody to tell you. I think that needs to develop a little more here. Here cricket is run brilliantly. But the boys need to know how lucky they are for what all they are getting from the association. They need to be more receptive to criticism and be less sensitive."
Trouble in paradise?
After Vijay "failed to report" to the SSN College ground for the clash against Mumbai on February 8, citing "shoulder pain", Kanitkar said he was aware of the injury. A TNCA release, however, stated that the selection committee and the physio weren't aware of it. The "communication gap" didn't go down well with the TNCA and left the team management shortchanged.
Kanitkar's two-year contract expires at the end of this season and though he is keen to continue in the job, it remains to be seen if the TNCA still wants him.