KOLKATA: Tuesday was expected to be Bengal’s day. Pluck seven Karnataka wickets and a first Ranji Trophy final since 2007 awaited them. A few hundred school kids, who were present at Eden Gardens over the last three days, had not even taken their seats when Mukesh Kumar in a sensational spell of 9-4-28-5 ripped apart Karnataka’s batting to virtually end the match before the first drinks break. It was an expected outcome, but the way Kumar decimated the eight-time champions was a sight to behold as Bengal’s hopes of lifting the trophy for only the third time received a boost.
After Akash Deep removed Abhimanyu Mithun at 11.07 am and office-bearers of the Cricket Association of Bengal including president Avishek Dalmiya watched from the stands, the celebrations were not just restricted to the players. Head coach Arun Lal and bowling coach Ranadeb Bose were in demand among the local media. And so were Kumar, Ishan Porel, Anustup Majumdar, Akash — architects of this win. Equally worthy was the sight of commentators Deep Dasgupta, Rohan Gavaskar with Bose — losing finalists in 2006 and 2007 — rejoice outside the dressing room. Syed Saba Karim, another former Bengal player who was here as BCCI general manager, was not far away.
Not just the team but the association is also desperate to win the title. Their much talked about Vision 2020 programme divides opinion, but the likes Abhimanyu Easwaran, Abhishek Raman, Sudip Chatterjee, Porel, Mukesh, Akash are finds of that programme. The CAB has been accommodative as it took Bose only a phone call to then president Sourav Ganguly to include Kumar — who had not played club-level or age-group cricket — in the Ranji squad five seasons back.
What has also helped is their decision to back proven performers when they are down. “You see it as long rope, I see it as a team sticking together when a player is down. Last season Easwaran scored all the runs and bailed us out. This time others are carrying him. Nothing has come easy for us. Whenever we were in trouble, someone put his hand up and that helped lift the team morale,” Lal said. Lal’s role is interesting. Last season he came in because then coach Sairaj Bahutle wasn’t giving results. From a mentor’s role, he has been handed full charge this season. He isn’t a father figure and doesn’t believe in teaching techniques. “To hell with the foot. Let it be wherever it is. I just tell them to focus on the ball and hit it,”
he thunders like India coach Ravi Shastri. According to Lal, they started preparations for this season on July 1, with players told to run 25 rounds each day with more focus on fitness than ever before. Then came the gym sessions and so on. “You need strength to last the season. If you have that, a team can do anything,” Lal says. Ahead of the season, they handed the captaincy to Easwaran, a player seen as an outsider by many. Now, the coach wants others to follow his example. “Easwaran is a tried and tested talent. Bengal needed his work ethic. When we were faltering last season, there was no better man than him. Look at his desire and love for the game. That’s what we wanted in the leader, so that we can all follow. We got a terrific young man, who even I want to follow.
When he came in this season, I told him it’s your team, you set the work ethic and you tell us,” Lal added. That said, Bengal face a bigger challenge now. Winners of the title in 1990, they have waited 30 years. They celebrated like there is no tomorrow, with many in the crowd staying back well after an hour after the match ended. Players signed autographs. At around 1.30, they headed back into the dressing room. “They are flying high. Let them. They have two more days. But when Lalji takes the bamboo and says come down, they will. We need to have our foot firmly on the ground,” Bose said.
13 Bengal reached the final of Ranji Trophy after 13 years.
3 This is the third straight semifinal exit for Karnataka in Ranji.
20 Pacers took all 20 wickets for Bengal at Eden Gardens in the semifinal vs Karnataka.
Brief scores : Bengal 312 & 161 bt Karnataka 122 & 177 (Padikkal 62; Mukesh 6/61).
Gujarat set big target
Rajkot: Arpit Vasavada’s 139 propelled Saurashtra to set a 327-run target for Gujarat on Day 4 of their Ranji Trophy semifinal in Rajkot on Tuesday. At stumps, Gujarat were 7/1. Resuming the day at 66/5, Saurashtra posted 274. For Gujarat, Chintan Gaja finished with 7/71.
Brief scores: Saurashtra 304 & 274 (Vasavada 139, Jani 51; Gaja 7/71) vs Gujarat 252 & 7/1.