When R Prasanna injured his back after colliding with Ashok Dinda during the match against Bengal, Tamil Nadu seemed to have hit another roadblock. This was a team that given its pedigree had underachieved in recent times: after making the final in 2011-12, Tamil Nadu had failed to make the knockouts for two years in succession.
At the end of the Bengal game, they had nine points from five matches, two more than the bottom-placed side. Also, with Prasanna out of action, there was to be a new captain for at least the next two games.
Tamil Nadu hadn't hit rock bottom yet, but the fear of relegation loomed. But, almost on a whim, there was a turnaround, fashioned not so much by spurts of individual brilliance as collective assault on made-to-order wickets. Other things fell in place at the right time.
Abhinav Mukund was handed the captaincy, Dinesh Karthik started reeling off big knocks, M Vijay's return from Australia was opportune, and Tamil Nadu registered innings wins over Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai. Their campaign gained enough momentum to take them to the final - a turnaround that scarcely seemed possible after that Bengal match.
"I don't think anyone [in the team] believed we could qualify for the knockouts," Mukund told ESPNcricinfo. "We were low on confidence. The UP game changed things. It came from a nothing to lose mentality."
"Even before that there was something we had identified: the freedom with which our batsmen were batting in the second innings of the MP game. That was the trigger point. [We realised] people like Vijay Shankar are natural stroke-makers. For them to curb their game and replicate grafters like Prasanna or me isn't going to work out.
"[WV] Raman has backed me completely even if he has had different opinions. Credit to him and the selectors for giving me a free hand."
Some of the improvement could be traced back to work put in at the pre-season camps in Wayanad and Mumbai.
"The Wayanad camp, training-wise, helped us a lot in playing five-day games. Some of us are playing five days for the first time," Vijay Shankar, who played pivotal roles in Tamil Nadu's quarterfinal and semifinal successes, said.
Shankar also pointed out to "playing freely" as a big contributor to the results. "Maybe, we ourselves would have put ourselves under pressure [in the past]. Raman sir says, 'the match anyway goes on till the fourth or the fifth day, so why think about it on the first day?'"
Tamil Nadu are, however, aware that a few areas require remedying going forward. With L Balaji not getting any younger -Raman said after the final it was "unfair to expect him to take the load all the time" - the pace resources need replenishing.
"I think we were unlucky to not have a pool of fast bowlers," Abhinav said. "J Kaushik got injured unfortunately after one game where he bowled well.
"Unfortunately, [T] Natarajan was called for a suspect action. If we had risked him playing, and had he been called again, it would have been a problem. [Aswin] Crist has come back strongly after a poor season.
"The reason why Karnataka are really good is they have four really good fast bowlers. By the end of the next year, if we have six to eight fast bowlers, we will be in good shape. I had informally spoken to the chairman of selectors, [S] Sharath, about it after the Baroda and Vidarbha games."
Raman said after the final the tweaks made to the format of the competitive TNCA first-division league would help throw up more fast bowling talent.
TN's other pressing requirement is the opening slot, which has been a revolving door with KB Arun Karthick moving to Assam and M Vijay's international commitments. "We tried it with Kaushik Gandhi and Bharath Shankar, but there were only okay performances from both. We need to start looking at those doing well in the league. It has been an open position for sometime."
Abhinav, however, said there were many positives that needed to be replicated the next season. "Our slip catching has improved by leaps and bounds, and the fielding overall has improved. We have made a conscious attempt to keep the intensity up by moving quickly between the overs and even deciding what to say on the field."
A TNCA official had said recently the team needed to be "more ruthless like Mumbai and Karnataka" to win consistently. Sharath agreed with the assessment.
"We need to learn from a very good team like Karnataka. Our guys are intelligent and if the same group of players continues playing together, we will improve."