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Bengal’s Shami puzzle

Manoj Tiwary (from left), Sourasish Lahiri, coach Ashok Malhotra and captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla during a practice session, at the Eden, on Saturday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: His was the warmest presence in an otherwise chilly Saturday morning, at the Eden.

Easily recognisable in a black T-shirt (Team India practice gear) in the sea of ‘blue’ that the Bengal players sported, Mohammed Shami was as lively as the winter wind, bowling his heart out at the nets for almost three hours.

With due respect to Bengal’s superb effort that helped them reach the Ranji Trophy quarters, it’s a fact that had Shami been available for the match against Railways, beginning from Wednesday at the Eden, the home team would have been the overwhelming favourites.

Interestingly, as the day progressed, there were rumours doing the rounds of the Eden that the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) will be making a desperate attempt to get Shami’s services for the quarter-final match.

Later, sources confirmed the development, though there was no good news for Bengal. The CAB, unofficially, sought the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) views on the matter, but couldn’t convince the parent body.

Ranji quarter finals are five-day affairs, unlike the group stage where it is played over four days. Thus the match, which begins on January 8, will run till January 12. The Board’s annual awards function is on January 11, where all India players will have to be present.

Also, the Indian squad for the limited overs series in New Zealand will be leaving on January 12. Hence, it is practically impossible for Shami to play the game.

Some in the CAB argued that the match can get over in four days. But it is impractical to believe that the BCCI would buy such logic.

The speedster, however, was happy that Bengal’s quarter-final match has given him a chance to practice with the team before embarking on the tricky tour of New Zealand. “I’m happy that I could practice with the Bengal team… I need to practice ahead of the New Zealand tour.

“I guess it’s mutually beneficiary, as my bowling at the nets will also help the Bengal batsmen prepare for their crucial match,” Shami pointed out.

Asked about his preparations for the upcoming assignment, Shami replied: “I have been to New Zealand earlier… So I have some idea about the conditions there. It won’t be very different from South Africa, but wind will be a major factor.”

Speaking about his South Africa experience, Shami said: “I’m pretty happy with what I achieved … I would say I was 80 per cent successful in what I had targeted.

“Also, it was nice bowling with someone like Zaheer Khan… One can learn so much from him. I will keep in mind the advice he has given to me.”

Shami had words of inspiration for the Bengal players. "We (Shami and the Bengal players) shared each other's weaknesses today… That would help. Bengal have reached the quarter final… So there's no reason why they can't go on to become the champions. Maybe they will have to work harder, but it's definitely possible," Shami said.