KOCHI: Having finished the net sessions on the eve of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament at the JN International stadium here, the Tripura players ambled across the ground for some shade from the bright sun. The team staff were friendlier toward scribes, who were few and far between, and even offered the ‘prying eyes’ tea and water — a rare act of hospitality that one could expect from cricketing sides these days.
The request for an interview with the players and the coach was immediately granted, making one wonder if the good old days of courtesy and humbleness are back. Two players deemed fit to be interviewed by media were lined up and the team’s assistant coach Alok Debroy was calling out for a third player. But when Debroy turned up with the player Rajesh Banik, who played alongside Irfan Pathan in the U-17 World Cup, it was too late. The media had wrapped up the interviews.
For a cricket these days, publicity is guaranteed. That’s why the scenes at the stadium seem nothing short of surreal. But then, there is this bottom line — that the winner takes all. Languishing at the bottom after the season’s Ranji trophy, Tripura is facing a great credibility test. Since their entry into first-class cricket in 1985-86, they have played 151 Ranji matches and out of this, they have managed only 7 wins ( 98 losses, 46 draws). This season, they played eight matches out of which they were battered in five.
Since 2014, they are being trained by Debunarayan Mitra, better known as Debu Mitra, who has had an illustrious domestic coaching career. Though his claim to fame was that he was the childhood coach of Saurav Ganguly, he showed his abilities at the higher level by guiding Saurashtra to the semis of the Ranji Trophy and podium of Vijay Hazare Championship. Having been in a similar situation before — Saurashtra was in plate division before when he took charge there in 2004 — Mitra is aware of the risks involved in guiding a feeble side.
“I like to take risks. Tripura has been doing bad and I was roped in to resurrect the side. My first plan is to make this team ready to reach the elite stage. But that will take some time to achieve. Cricket demands patience and we need time to develop,” he observes.
The Tripura Cricket Association (TCA) was also perturbed by the sliding standards and they have roped in Mitra to arrest the situation first, and later raise the standard.
“They wanted to improve the standards of the game. There was a feeling among many that importing talents from other states can help the team fare well. We had three such players in Ranji Trophy season but they failed miserably. Now we have decided to go ahead with local talents. Cricket will grow in the state with the help of local talents only. Outsiders may help in one or two games but if you want to go the extra mile, you need local players. That’s what I am in search of,” the veteran gaffer said.
Tripura will take on Saurashtra in their first match. The tournament being played in the shortest format, he feels his boys have a chance against stronger opponents. “In T20 games, there will be no favourites. The match can turn on its head at any moment. That’s why I’ve told my boys to buckle up for the challenge,” he said.