In 1989-90, under the captaincy of Sambaran Banerjee, Bengal won the Ranji Trophy at Eden Gardens – a rain-marred contest between Delhi and Bengal that was decided on the basis of the East Zone side having a better run quotient. After over three decades, once again at the hallowed turf of Eden Gardens, Bengal would have another shot at hoisting the trophy under the leadership of the experienced Manoj Tiwary when they take on Saurashtra in the final, starting February 16.
In that period, Bengal also reached the final four times, only to finish second best on every occasion. However, this time around, the East Zone side seem to have found the right pieces to complete the jigsaw puzzle. For starters, in Mukesh Kumar, Ishan Porel and Akash Deep, Bengal make for a formidable pace attack. Akash, who is renowned for nipping it back into the right-handed batters at waspish pace, has bagged 37 wickets at an average of just over 20 this season. Mukesh too can hurry the batter with the irritable pace.
Bengal also have an experienced batting unit, with the likes of Anustup Majumdar, Sudip Gharami and Abhimanyu Easwaran all averaging over 50 this season. Over a period of time, Majumdar in particular has shepherded the batting order when Bengal have found themselves in trouble. Tiwary, who was a part of Bengal’s last three Ranji finals, would be looking to lead from the front, in what could be his final competitive game. Shahbaz Ahmed’s all-round skills also add depth to the side.
Bengal’s opponent, Saurashtra, too would believe they have the side to lift the trophy. The last time they were crowned Ranji champions was in 2019-20 – the season in which Jaydev Unadkat took a rich haul of 67 wickets. Saurashtra’s talisman is back in the set-up after being released from the India Test squad for the second Test against Australia. The 6’3″ tall left-arm pace bowler seems to have found a bit more horsepower as he is bowling relatively quicker in the last few years. Unadkat also seems to have developed a decent short ball.
Saurashtra also have enough firepower in the batting order, with Arpit Vasavada turning out to be their fulcrum. The middle-order bat cracked a superlative double ton and followed it up with a crucial, unbeaten hand to help Saurashtra win a tense encounter against Karnataka in the semifinal. To make it even better, Saurashtra’s other mainstay, Sheldon Jackson, has found his form at the right time, having notched up a splendid 160 versus Karnataka. In the pace department, Chetan Sakariya would team up with Unadkat. Saurashtra also have an assembly line of left-arm spinners. Alongside star spinner Ravi Jadeja (on India duty), they have D Jadeja and Parth Bhut.
When: February 16, 2023; 9.30 AM
Where: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
What to expect: The Eden Gardens track is set to offer more bounce for the pace bowlers, along with a hint of seam movement off the deck.
Bengal: The East Zone has already announced their XI. Karan Lal, who has struggled with the bat this season, has been left out. The 32-year-old spinning all-rounder from Rampurhat, Sumanta Gupta, will make his first-class debut. Meanwhile, pace bowler Akash Ghatak has replaced in-form left-arm spinner, Pradipta Pramanik. That, perhaps, gives further indicator of Bengal’s strategy revolving around their pace bowling stocks.
Playing XI:Abhimanyu Easwaran, Sumanta Gupta, Sudip Kumar Gharami, Anustup Majumdar, Manoj Tiwary (c), Shahbaz Ahmed, Abishek Porel (wk), Akash Ghatak, Akash Deep, Mukesh Kumar, Ishan Porel
Saurashtra: With Unadkat returning to the side, Parth Bhut could miss out. Although he played a pivotal role in Saurashtra’s memorable win versus Punjab in the quarter-final.
Probable XI: Snell Patel, Harvik Desai, Vishwaraj Jadeja, Sheldon Jackson, Arpit Vasavada, Chirag Jani, Prerak Mankad, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Jaydev Unadkat, Chetan Sakariya, Yuvrajsinh Dodiya
What they said:
“As a captain I didn’t think I would come this far to take team to final and on threshold of trophy. Obviously as a player I had dream of it but to be able to lead the side and come this far is special” – Manoj Tiwary, Bengal captain.
“We have a great group of players and all are waiting for this moment. We will give our best to become champions again. We are now a formidable force now in domestic circuit” – Jaydev Unadkat, Saurashtra captain.