|CAB president Jagmohan Dalmiya and ex-captains Sambaran Banerjee and Palash Nandi present an autographed bat to Ashok Malhotra and Laxmi Ratan Shukla. A Telegraph picture
Calcutta: From a wayward team who faltered at crucial moments to a cohesive, aggressive unit who seize the crunch moments to emerge victorious, the Bengal side this season have been very different than the last couple of seasons.
What has brought about the change? To put it in coach Ashok Malhotra’s words, it’s his ability to speak the local language which has changed the atmosphere in the dressing room. “I manage to speak Bengali… The boys, perhaps, did not understand ‘Madrasi’ (Tamil) in the earlier seasons,” Malhotra said on Tuesday.
Interpret as you wish, for to some it may sound humorous while to others it may appear to be a dig at former coach Woorkeri Raman, who is from Tamil Nadu.
Malhotra went on to add that the youngsters in his side are not afraid of confronting aggression with aggression. “The youngsters are full of energy and confidence… They could talk to someone like Abhinav Mukund face to face,” Malhotra, who took over from Raman this season, said while referring to Bengal’s thrilling four-run win over Tamil Nadu in their last group-league match.
Under Raman’s three-season tenure, Bengal failed to make the knockouts, while this time Bengal have defied all odds to make the quarters.
Malhotra believes that the team is peaking at the right time and so he is confident of a good performance from them. “We’re peaking at the right time… We have a performing captain. We’re just three matches away from the title… We all are very excited and looking forward to these games,” he said.
Two-time champions Bengal won the title last time in 1989-90 with a Sambaran Banerjee-led side that also had Malhotra. Asked if he found any similarities of that team with the present crop, Malhotra said: “On paper, that was a much stronger side… But the atmosphere in this team is fantastic at the moment... The biggest thing is that whole of Bengal seem to be excited.”
Asked about the pitch, the coach said: “Both the sides are dependent on pacers… We’re looking forward to playing to our potential and we’re here to play good cricket.”
Malhotra also disagreed that bad blood between the players from their last meeting will spill over to this game. “We’ve left it (the ‘Mankading’ incident) on the field, that’s too small an incident… We’re more concerned about winning the next three matches to win the Ranji Trophy,” he said.
Echoing Malhotra, Railways coach Abhay Sharma too said: “We’re happy to be here, the people are friendly. There will not be any controversy from now on.
“Our job is to play cricket… We’ve been playing well...Ultimately it will boil down to the team who performs well on the given day… It will be a battle of sessions” Sharma added.