Ashwin's captaincy, batting revamp boost Tamil Nadu

B Aparajith goes over the top BCCI

After facing the ignominy of their lowest aggregate in first-class history and suffering an early exit in the Ranji Trophy, Tamil Nadu's players watched their state submerge in the floods. United by crisis, many players had set out to provide relief to help repair the damage. Later, buoyed by the return of R Ashwin and M Vijay, the Tamil Nadu team got together to repair their domestic season, and secure a semi-final spot in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. ESPNcricinfo looks at five factors, which sparked the side's turnaround.

Ashwin's captaincy

Just two days after wrapping up India's 3-0 win over South Africa in Delhi, Ashwin was back to train with Tamil Nadu. He lifted the team, "fired the boys up", and laid the template for an attack-first approach. Ashwin's captaincy was proactive: he used funky fields, rotated the attack, and kept chatting with the younger bowlers.

After Tamil Nadu edged Uttar Pradesh by one wicket in the quarter-final, Ashwin said that captaincy has worked out well for him, something coach M Sanjay fully endorsed. "Ashwin is a fantastic, thinking captain. He fired the boys up ahead of the tournament and we did not want to hold back. We wanted to play aggressive cricket which has not been seen in Tamil Nadu in the past few years," Sanjay told ESPNcricinfo. "L Balaji was pushed to [No. 5 in the quarter-final], it did not work. But mostly it has worked well overall. Ashwin thinks out of the box, and we want to keep the opposition guessing."

Batting revamp

Tamil Nadu also welcomed back the experience of the country's first-choice Test opener Vijay. But, he was not sent to open. Instead, he was slotted in the middle order, while Dinesh Karthik was hiked to the top to partner Abhinav Mukund. Karthik was sprightly behind and in front of the stumps, forming a solid union with Mukund.

Vijay settled into his new role in the middle order and accumulated 266 runs in six matches at an average of 44.33. He was also tasked with the responsibility of marshalling the Baba twins and Vijay Shankar in the middle order. The effect of the batting revamp was on ample display when Tamil Nadu whipped up 384 against Rajasthan, surging to a 252-run win, their biggest in List A cricket.

Pace-bowling bite

For a side that has thrived on spin for years, are Tamil Nadu even allowed to have pace-bowling bite? Ashwin has been the side's leading wicket-taker, Rahil Shah produced a six-wicket haul, but it was M Mohammed, from small town Dindigul, who gave the attack a new dimension. A skiddy bowler, who can find some extra bounce, Mohammed conceded close to six runs an over but bowled with good pace until a knee injury ended his tournament before the knockouts. He had claimed ten scalps in four matches, highlighted by his maiden List A five-for, against Services.

Tamil Nadu's bowling-coach-cum-player Balaji, who had been wrapped in cotton wool for the Ranji Trophy, returned and tutored the inexperienced seamers even on the field. "Balaji has been working with the bowlers throughout the season; his role is to develop the next generation of fast bowlers in Tamil Nadu. He has played internationals and is a wily old fox," Sanjay said.

All-round options

R Sathish, Vijay Shankar, J Kousik have all pitched in with handy contributions with the bat, ball, and even on the field. Shankar had to be helped off the field due to a troubled hamstring sustained while batting, in Tamil Nadu's first match against Assam, but he came back to bowl tight wicket-to-wicket lines, sometimes with a newish ball.

Sathish, however, has been the pick of the allrounders, helping Tamil Nadu seal their semi-final berth with a cool head. He first tied down UP with his cutters and wobbly seam bowling in an unbroken spell of ten overs for only 14 runs. He then finished the game on a tricky pitch with an unbeaten 34, which eventually proved the difference between Tamil Nadu and UP. Ashwin too has been amongst the runs, which bodes well for Tamil Nadu going into the business end of the tournament.

B Aparajith coming into his own

In side with plenty of strokemakers, Tamil Nadu looked out for a failsafe. They looked out for B Aparajith, who had failed to push on after starts in the Ranji Trophy, to come into his own. Aparajith answered the call, striking three fifties and one century in six matches to tally 383 runs, only 11 behind Mandeep Singh, the tournament's highest run-scorer.