Bengal coach Arun Lal believes his team will be among the top five teams in domestic cricket in the next five years.
“Bengal had a fabulous cricketing year this year. I do believe that the next five years will show you the results as well. This group of 40-45 cricketers in Bengal at the moment will ensure that Bengal is amongst the top five teams in the next five years in every format,” Lal side after his team progressed to its second consecutive Ranji Trophy final on Friday.
The Ranji Trophy 2019-20 finalist, Bengal was the only team to have registered three outright wins in the league stage before trouncing Jharkhand in the quarterfinal with a mammoth 475-run first innings lead. However, Lal believes the Abhimanyu Easwaran-led side has yet to deliver on its promise.
“We are now playing to about 40 to 50 percent of our potential. I honestly believe we have the best team in the tournament even though there is no guarantee of winning the trophy,” he said.
The RCB connection
From being bundled out for 88 against Baroda in its first league match to amassing 773 against Jharkhand in the quarterfinal, Bengal has been buoyed by the consistency of all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed, who is coming off a successful Indian Premier League (IPL) season with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“He [Shahbaz Ahmed] is what I call a genuine all-rounder. He is the backbone of our team. He is what is holding the top and the bottom together. He comes in at a pivotal position, he delivers with the ball, he is a terrific fielder. IPL has not discovered Shahbaz yet. Not more than 20 percent of him has been discovered; wait for the next couple of years,” Lal said after Shahbaz delivered yet again in the quarterfinal with scores of 78 and 46 and figures of four for 51 in the first innings.
Lal believes that the IPL is also yet to realise the potential of Shahbaz’s RCB team-mate Akash Deep, who set the quaint Just Cricket Academy Ground in Bengaluru alight by reeling off eight sixes for his 18-ball 50 in the quarterfinal.
“Akash Deep is yet to be discovered by the IPL. There is no bigger hitter than him. He got a fifty with eight sixes. He himself doesn’t know his strength yet. As a bowler for the T20 version, he needs a few more variations. If you let him be and don’t confuse him situationally, he produces his best.”
The pace trio and batting woes
Despite creating history in the quarterfinal by having nine half-centurions in the first innings, Bengal’s batting line-up has had a stop-start season and had just the lone centurion in Easwaran this season ahead of the match against Jharkhand.
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“Our batting has been letting us down. My expectations are 10 and they are performing at three. I am not the kind of guy who tampers and tinkers too much with technique. During the season, you are just galvanizing their energy and their belief and making them understand how good they are,” he said.
However, the bowling, particularly the pace trio of Ishan Porel, Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar, with 40 wickets between them, have cushioned the blow by not allowing the opposition to breach the 300-run mark even once this season.
“Our pace attack has been the best in the country by far. They have won us matches and bailed us out on so many occasions. They are our heroes. Mukesh can get the ball to move, Porel with his height hits the deck with the seam and gets the movement off the seam and Akash Deep can get a set batsman out with the old ball with his sheer pace and venom,” Lal said.
‘The heroes of tomorrow’
Bengal has struck a fine balance between the youth of Sudip Kumar Gharami and Abishek Porel and the experience of Manoj Tiwary and Anustup Majumdar.
Gharami, who made his first-class debut in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy final against Saurashtra, repaid the faith with a sublime 186 in the first innings against Jharkhand after a lean run in the league stage. Meanwhile, Abishek helped Bengal pull off a heist against Baroda on debut with an unbeaten 51.
“This is one special talent – Abishek Porel. There are big performers who come. I was a performer for Bengal but I am half as talented as this young boy. He is a natural and for someone so young to come into a team like this and perform almost every game at crucial junctures really augurs well for Bengal cricket,” Lal said about the 19-year-old.
“Whether we win the Ranji Trophy or not – Abishek Porel and Gharami are two huge pluses for Bengal cricket and they will be the heroes of tomorrow,” he added.
Meanwhile, 36-year-old Tiwary, now a minister in the West Bengal government, reiterated his class with a well-paced century against Jharkhand after a horror outing in the group stage matches.
“I must admit that I was a little concerned about Manoj’s form. He hasn’t been able to play too many matches because of his other commitments and he has had a knee problem. He wanted to play this red-ball season to win the Ranji Trophy for Bengal. When we came to Karnataka early to play practice matches, he didn’t get too many runs and I saw him on his own, while the match was going on, knocking in the nets, getting some people to throw balls at him for hours,” Lal said.