I am following the Ranji Trophy this year seriously after many years. After they changed the format, this is the first time I am paying decent attention.
This year's semi-finals are taking place right now: Mumbai vs UP and Baroda vs Bengal. And at the end of two days, it is advantage UP and Bengal. Which is unexpected because Mumbai and Baroda totally dominated their groups during the group phase.
Uttar Pradesh, which has traditionally been a mediocre team (they never won the Ranji Trophy, though they were in the final twice, in 77-78 and 97-98, losing to Karnataka both times), is enjoying a very spirited and successful season. The key factors in that are the experience of Mohd Kaif (who is the captain) and the good form of Suresh Raina. Mumbai, of course, dominated the Ranji Trophy like no other team in any sport probably dominated its national league - they won 36 times and lost in the finals 4 times. In the 26 seasons between 1951 and 1976 they won 22. The second most successful teams are Karnataka and Delhi, with 6 wins each! Considering all this, one has to really admire UP for doing so well against Mumbai (they are also playing in Mumbai). Having taken the first innings lead, they only need to avoid defeat to play their third Ranji Trophy final.
Bengal (11 appearances in the finals, with 2 victories) and Baroda (8,5) had similar success so far, though Baroda won more trophies and have been more successful in recent seasons.
At the other end, Railways (who are, ironically, the defending champions) and Services will be relegated to the Plate Group, while Orissa, Saurashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will battle it out to be promoted to the Elite Group (the semi-finals of the Plate Group will take place 25-29 Jan).