Calcutta: Many believe that the current Bengal team are a ‘changed’ side… Not as much in terms of the playing XI as it is in the way they are playing the game.
While Bengal of the last five years were as brittle as a cookie in crunch moments, this side, coached by Ashok Malhotra and captained by Laxmi Ratan Shukla, believe in rising above the tallest of waves and yet emerge victorious. It’s not that they aren’t failing at all, it’s just that they aren’t afraid of failures any more.
It is this attitude that has urged them to sow a dream, to nurture hopes of a rich harvest. Their field work begins on Saturday, at the Holkar Stadium in Indore, when they take on Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy semi-final.
Call it Team Bengal for they are playing well as a team. But two men stand above the rest — Shukla and Ashok Dinda. Be it Shukla’s knockout punches with the bat or Dinda’s superhuman spells, time and again these two senior pros have bailed the team out of tightest corners. As the season progressed, the duo have ironed out the creases with their hard work, the invisibility of Manoj Tiwary and Mohammed Shami hardly being visible. Both will be the key once again.
Though it is highly unlikely that Dinda would replace Shukla as the captain in this match just to shield the latter from suspension, one can certainly say that irrespective of who the captain is, both have been inspiring leaders of the side.
What can one say about Shukla? At times, one has felt that he grabs the match by its neck and twists it to his desired direction with sheer power. Such has been his impact. He is not only Bengal’s highest scorer so far, he is one of the most impact-making players of the season.
Dinda’s is a story of changed times. Seven seasons back, when Bengal last made the Ranji semis, Dinda wasn’t the strike bowler he is now. In that game against Karnataka, the speedster was the third-choice pacer after Ranadeb Bose and Sourav Sarkar. In fact, in the second innings of that match, the then captain, Deep Dasgupta, had used Shukla as the first change bowler, not Dinda. For the record, Dinda had gone wicketless in that game.
Cut to the Dinda of 2013-14, one to whom the captain hands over the new ball, one who is the leading Bengal wicket-taker of the season with 37 scalps, one who commands the ‘Dinda, Dinda’ chants at the Eden… He is the heart of the Bengal bowling attack now; he was only a part of it in 2006-07.
At the nets on Friday, one found an urgency in Dinda… An eagerness to reach every corner. Not just on himself, the senior pacer spent a lot of time on the other bowlers of the team as well. It was as if a ‘mentor’ Dinda was at work. Then, take his batting… Seldom do we find Indian fast bowlers giving due respect to the bat when it is in their own hands. But Dinda has been working hard on this aspect as well. And it’s working… When others fell prey to the Railways pacers in the quarter-final match at the Eden, one remembers Dinda pulling the intended bouncers over the boundary.
There’s a reason why Dinda is the subject of most Bengal-related talks. He would be needed most for stopping the rampaging Maharashtra batsmen. After a disastrous last season, Maharashtra have regrouped outstandingly this time, thanks to the likes of Kedar Jadhav (1034 runs), Harshad Khadiwale (944 runs) and Vijay Zol (516 runs).
The Indore pitch has a grassy look and promises bounce and pace for the pacers. But that can be an illusion as Indore has produced loads of runs this season. It will be safe to say that the wicket has something for everyone. So while Dinda, along with Shib Shankar Paul and Sourav Sarkar, should be happy to bowl on it, they should also be cautious of not losing focus.
Two changes are likely in the Bengal playing XI — Kaushik Ghosh may come in for Subhomoy Das while Sandipan Das may replace Writtick Chatterjee.
Bengal (likely): Koushik Ghosh, Arindam Das, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Sudip Chatterjee, Wriddhiman Saha, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Sandipan Das, Sourashish Lahiri, Sourav Sarkar, Ashok Dinda, Shib Shankar Paul
Match starts: 9.30am