|Shib Shankar Paul (from left), Arnab Nandi, Ashok Dinda and Laxmi Ratan Shukla after Bengal’s victory at the Eden, on Sunday. (PTI)
Calcutta: Laxmi Ratan Shukla, flanked by Wriddhiman Saha and Ashok Dinda, the seating arrangement was almost perfect at the post-match media conference, at the Eden.
The trio, with Shukla playing the lead role, has been instrumental in helping Bengal reach the Ranji Trophy semi-final this season. They recorded a dramatic 48-run victory over Railways in the quarter, which concluded on Sunday.
While Shukla has been phenomenal with his batting, bowling and leadership, Saha and Dinda have raised their hands almost always when the team needed them.
Shukla began by addressing Dinda and Saha as the “two champions of Bengal” and then went to explain how the duo’s contribution has helped the team. “Dinda’s spell in the first innings and Wriddhi’s batting… Both were outstanding. They are the senior players and they delivered under pressure. The way Wriddhi played in the second innings was so important to the team. It was a convincing win for us and we did small things correctly,” Shukla said.
Shukla highlighted the fact that the match, unlike the other quarter finals, went into the fifth and final day. “All the other quarter finals were over in four days, but ours needed five… That shows how competitive the match was… Credit to Railways too. They had topped the group and are a superb team. I had said at the start of the match that this would be a tough game.
“But we were desperate to win… We had nothing to lose... We had lost so much in the previous seasons. We had a good team in the past as well, but we did badly. I won’t say I’m too happy, but would say that I’m happy enough to make the semis. We have a long way to go… We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
According to Shukla, the team’s victory despite missing several key players like Manoj Tiwary and Mohammed Shami goes on to speak of the passion that his boys have. “This is not just an achievement, this is our passion… I have said before that I don’t want to see the likes of Wriddhi, Dinda and Shami in the Bengal dressing room. I want to see them playing for India. The more they play for India, the more proud we will feel. But that Wriddhi will be there for us the semis, definitely makes me happy.”
Not just the players, Shukla didn’t forget to mention coach Ashok Malhotra’s name in his moment of success.
“Paaji inspires us a lot… Even if someone is unwell and can’t play, he is there by his side. I am not going to compare him with previous coaches, but paaji is an inspiration to us. He has played such great cricket in his playing days… He inspires us to do well and we have succeeded till now.”
Lauding the youngsters for the maturity they have shown, Shukla said: “Sudip (Chatterjee) and (Abhimanyu) Easwaran played intelligently… Very happy with the youngsters. The way they controlled things after we lost two quick wickets in the first innings was incredible… I am very happy. I hope they continue with their good work. Everyone is trying to play well… I hope the remainder of the journey is good too.”
The captain also thanked the fans for the support they extended throughout the match. “Thanks to the fans… They supported us all through. We are grateful to them.”
Dinda, on the other hand, said he doesn’t mind bowling long spells. “I have always bowled long spells… But this is not just about me… It was a team effort. Three outright wins in a row… That’s outstanding. If we can, we want to win the remaining matches outright as well. Today is a day to enjoy… Will think about Maharashtra (semi-final opponents) later.”
“We have the right team… I am not too concerned about the Indian team right now. I always stay positive… I knew that if I played well in this match, it would give me another match to play… I always go out and give my best, wherever I play,” Dinda added.
Saha, who was adjudged Man of the Match, picked the bowlers as the heroes. “Dinda, Paul and Sarkar… All three were outstanding today. They gave their 110 per cent and that is why we won the match,” Saha said.
“Our captain always gives 100 percent… But I would like to stress that everyone is a captain is a captain in our side… We take all decisions together.”
Coach Malhotra himself was happy for his boys. People kept asking him questions referring his predecessors, but the man handled everything with the shrewdness of a professional, sporting a smile always.
He heaped praise on his boys, especially on Shukla and Dinda. “Shukla and Dinda have been playing fantastic cricket… They are playing well enough to be representing the national team soon again.”
Asked if his association with the Bengal team has improved the dressing-room atmosphere, Malhotra said: “I can just say that we don't do anything extraordinary… We believe in each other, we support each other… We are just a happy family and it is reflecting in our performances.”