Iyer, Lad miss opening game
Mumbai, 41-time champions, will begin their title defence against Tamil Nadu in Lahli without the services of the injured duo of Shreyas Iyer and Siddhesh Lad. While Iyer hasn't yet recovered from a quadricep injury he picked up during India A's tour of Australia last month, Lad is suffering from back spasms. Mumbai's chairman of selectors Milind Rege said Lad had had a recurrence of an old injury. "We will wait on his progress in the next five to seven days, but we hope that Iyer will be fit for the next game [against Baroda in Delhi from October 13]," he said.

Iyer was the highest run-getter in Ranji Trophy 2015-16 with 1321 from 11 games at an average of 73.38. Lad has established himself in the middle order in recent times, and scored a crucial 88 in the final against Saurashtra last year. Injury to two key players could translate into a debut for Armaan Jaffer, who has been a heavy run-scorer for Mumbai at the Under-19 level. He was more-recently part of India's Under-19 World Cup squad.

Shifting of venues
The Rajasthan-Saurashtra game in the opening round has been shifted to Vizianagaram from Chennai because of the hosting of the senior women's one-day league. The second match in Chennai between Karnataka and Jharkhand from October 13 to 16 has also been moved to Greater Noida in the wake of the tense situation in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka following the Cauvery verdict.

Tamil Nadu's camp in Dehradun
Tamil Nadu has had a week-long preparatory camp in Dehradun to get accustomed to the conditions they will be facing during the first half of their campaign in the northern states. Tamil Nadu play their first three matches in Lahli, Bilaspur and Dharamsala.

Tamil Nadu captain Abhinav Mukund said his team wanted to practice on black soil-based pitches. "Our main intention was to practice in mostly similar weather and also similar pitch conditions," Abhinav said. "The Abhimanyu Cricket Academy in Dehradun, where we trained, is one of the best facilities I have been in across India. Whatever we asked for - be it the pitches, the gym, the food - we got it.

"We tried all sort of pitches here - there were a couple of those where the ball kept low, some of those had good carry. We did match scenarios and had center-wicket practice every day. So, from a preparation point of view, things were very good."

Unmukt to lead Delhi
Unmukt Chand will lead Delhi in their opening game against Assam in Vadodara in the absence of Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, both on national duty. Unmukt had led India to the Under-19 World Cup title in 2012 in Australia. He has also captained Delhi on a few occasions in the past. However, Unmukt's returns in Ranji Trophy 2015-16 were middling, as he managed only 439 runs from 14 innings.

'Focus on uniformity in pitch preparation'
Daljeet Singh, the chairman of the BCCI's ground & pitches committee, said the emphasis was on making good cricket pitches for the Ranji Trophy. The pitches will be prepared by curators of the host state associations, while the board's curators will travel to different venues at various points to monitor the pitches.

"We had a two-day workshop in Mumbai where curators of all associations were present, and the only thing that was discussed was about making good pitches for a four-day match," Daljeet told ESPNcricinfo. "A good four-day match starts with a little grass and then flattens out to become a good batting track later before having wear and tear in the end."

When asked about the instructions given to curators a few years ago to retain 4mm grass on the pitch, Daljeet said there were never any standing guidelines. "The 4mm grass was the interpretation of a few people. If you have 4mm grass in Lahli, the match will be over in one-and-a-half days," he said. "It is only about uniformity in pitch-preparation, and we have only given general guidelines about good cricketing pitches."