Bengal: a top-level team with mid-level ambitions and low-level achievements

A thrilling 2021/22 Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Quarter-Final encounter between Bengal and Karnataka had to be decided by a super over.

Rajarshi Das
New Update

A thrilling 2021/22 Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Quarter-Final encounter between Bengal and Karnataka had to be decided by a super over. Bengal, despite their counter-attacking approach in the powerplay in which they lost three wickets, were on the ropes at one stage chasing a target of 161. Writtick Chatterjee had just departed for a 40-ball 51 with his side still needing 53 off the last 5 overs for victory. Ritwik Roy Chowdhury, usually a top/middle-order bat, was at the crease, batting at number 7. He was joined by Pradipta Pramanik following his namesake's dismissal.

A few hits to the fence, some coming off strokes of luck and the others being down to sheer brilliance and placement, mainly coming from Ritwik's bat, meant that Bengal needed 26 off the last two. Karnataka's Darshan MB conceded only 6 off the penultimate over to go with the wicket of Pramanik. This left Bengal with 20 to get off the last over, eventually bowled by Vidyadhar Patil. It was Ritwik who saved his best for the last over with two sixes, one over cow corner and the other expertly lapped over fine leg, after which he got off-strike and Akash Deep levelled the scores.

Manish Pandey's accurate throw from cover to catch Akash Deep short at the non-striker's end took the game to a super over. Ritwik Roy Chowdhury, the man of the moment, ended with 36 off 18 to his name and was the catalyst behind Bengal's late fightback. Therefore, it was natural to expect him to take the first strike in the super over, with left-hander Shreevats Goswami, who was instrumental in Bengal's flying start to the chase early on, being his partner at the other end.

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Instead, the viewers got to witness the team management get together, have a brief conversation among themselves, and ask Kaif Ahmed to pad up. Kaif had scored a 26-ball 20 in the chase, out of which he managed 1 in his last 10 balls which led to immense pressure for him and his team. Kaif, who has been talked up by Bengal cricket experts as a big-hitting match-winner, usually has an air of pompousness around him every time he walks out to bat.

However, he looked like a rabbit caught in front of headlights in this game, and his expressions were no different even after the team management tried to bolster his confidence by sending him in for the super over and giving him an opportunity for redemption. Ritwik Roy Chowdhury walked out alongside him, and having reached mid-pitch, the duo agreed upon Kaif taking strike against KC Cariappa.

Having missed the first delivery, a carrom ball, Kaif connected with the second one, but could only find Karun Nair's palms at long-off. Shreevats Goswami replaced him, immaculately placed a round-arm delivery through cover-point for four and then was run out the following ball, trying to look for a double. Bengal's set target of 6 was completed by Manish Pandey within two deliveries bowled by Mukesh Kumar.

Following their exit from the T20 competition, Bengal went on to be drawn in the same group as Baroda, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, Mumbai, and Karnataka for the 2021/22 Vijay Hazare Trophy. A winning start against Baroda was followed by successive defeats to both the teams from Tamil Nadu, the second one being a demoralizing margin of 136 runs.

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Banking on half-centuries from Baba Indrajith and Dinesh Karthik, Jagatheesan Koushik and Shahrukh Khan wreaked havoc in the slog overs for Tamil Nadu, the former scoring a half-century off 31 balls and the latter smashing Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar to all parts of the ground for a 12-ball 32. Chasing 296, none of the Bengal batters' scores exceeded 30 other than Abhishek Das.

The next day, Bengal went on to produce a fantastic result against Mumbai, defeating the defending champions by 67 runs as per VJD method. Veteran campaigner Anustup Majumdar returned from a finger injury to hit a fighting 110. In the process, Anustup stitched a 129-run partnership with Shahbaz Ahmed, who finished with a 97-ball 106 to his name. Defending 319, all 6 Bengal bowlers chipped in with wickets. Left-arm spinner Pradipta Pramanik was the pick of them with 3 for 33 in 9 overs, as Mumbai managed 223 in the revised 41 overs.

Tamil Nadu's shocking 1-run loss to Puducherry on the same day meant that Bengal had to win their final group game against Karnataka and hope for Tamil Nadu to reach 16 points by beating Baroda. The reasoning behind that being: while the Head-to-Head group game result was considered between two teams in case of them being level on points at the end of the group stage, once the number of teams exceeded two, the two teams with the highest Net Run Rate got to proceed. Unfortunately for Bengal, Tamil Nadu failed to chase a paltry 115 against Baroda, falling short by 41 runs.

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Pradipta Pramanik's 4-wicket haul and tight spells from Shahbaz Ahmed and Writtick Chatterjee kept Karnataka down to 212 with 5 and a half overs to play. But a late surge from Praveen Dubey, which included 20 runs off the last over from Mukesh Kumar, meant that Bengal had to chase down 253 in 24.3 Overs to go through, a task that proved to be too tall for them.

It certainly didn't help that the message was relayed to the Bengal batters at the crease 10 overs into the chase; Bengal still required about 200 runs with 14 overs remaining by then. Even though they did reach the target and claimed a win over Karnataka, they had to bow out from the competition, and thus, the 10-year wait for a men's domestic title was extended still further.


On the 1st of December, 2019, Bengal, led by Kazi Junaid Saifi, were crowned champions of the Men's U23 One Day Trophy, having beaten Gujarat by 64 runs in the final at Dehradun. Some of the members of the winning team were also high up on the runs and wickets charts; while Kazi and Sudip Gharami, two cricketers highly regarded in Bengal, aggregated a total of 499 and 509 runs, finishing 3rd and 4th in the highest run-scorers list, Pradipta Pramanik and Sandipan Das took 24 and 21 wickets respectively.

Leaving Pramanik aside, all of them are yet to experience playing white-ball cricket for the senior side. The trio is still restricted to playing the same competition two years later, along with Ankur Paul, Gharami's opening partner, who finished with 360 runs in the 2019 edition and was 20th in the highest run-getters list.

Even in the Men's U25 State A Trophy this year, the top-order trio of Gharami, Paul, and Kazi have aggregated a total of over 750 runs among themselves in the group stages itself, each of them hitting a crucial century. Bengal's U25 middle order of Diganta Neogi and Agniv Pan had also chipped in with swashbuckling contributions. Among the bowlers, Suraj Sindhu Jaiswal, Sandipan Das and Akash Ghatak have been among the wickets, with Ghatak also providing useful contributions with the bat.

And yet, none of the players from this squad made it to the list of players for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, which was one days after the end of the U25 One Day Trophy's group stages.

It is not that none of the members from that victorious 2019/20 Men's U23 One Day Trophy side have had any game-time for the senior side in white-ball cricket. But barring Akash Deep and Ishan Porel, none of them have been allowed to establish themselves as a regular for Bengal. Pramanik's inclusion this season was mainly because of two reasons; the absence of a regular team member, Ishan Porel in this case, and Bengal requiring a specialist spinner to make the most of the slow conditions they played in.

Middle-order batter Ranjot Singh Kharia, who finished above Ankur in the highest run-getter list with 364 runs, had to perform to his best ability in club cricket over the last two seasons in order to earn a place in the squad for both competitions in the first place. In the two matches that he played in, he batted number 8 against Mumbai and was sent to open against Karnataka. With the way the Bengal selection panel goes about their business, Kharia being unable to make an impact on both occasions might have pushed him back in the pecking order for the future.

The lack of transition of players to the senior team at a young age has been a perennial issue for Bengal. This was something that former India batsman Dilip Vengsarkar observed when he visited Bengal a few years ago; upon spotting a talented young kid bat, he enquired the reason behind the player not being a part of the senior Bengal squad. The answer that he received disappointed him, and he stated that this was one of the main reasons behind Bengal lagging behind other domestic sides.

The same batch of players from the 2019/20 Men's U23 One Day Trophy-winning squad, more or less, also gave Bengal the U19 Cooch Behar Trophy in the 2016/17 season. On their quest for that title, Bengal faced a considerable number of players amongst their oppositions, who have not just gone on to being regulars in their respective senior state team, some of them have also established themselves in the Indian Premier League and then gone on to play for India.

Bengal's opposition in the quarter-final, Punjab, had Prabhsimran Singh, Shubman Gill, Anmolpreet Singh, and Mayank Markande, all of whom have had considerable IPL experience, with Gill going on to don Indian colours. Bengal defeated Delhi in the final, a side which had Manjot Kalra, Anuj Rawat, Jonty Sidhu, and Simarjeet Singh, all of whom are regulars for the Delhi senior men's side.

Compared to them, the Bengal Colts' fortunes have been….depressing, to say the least. It also doesn't paint a good picture for the likes of Abishek Porel, Debopratim Halder, and Toufiquddin Mondol, three talented, highly-touted cricketers in the current U19 setup.

Therefore, it's not that this group of players had assembled one by one in the U23 setup, a majority of them have been playing together since their Under-16 days. Bengal all-rounder Arnab Nandi, in a conversation with Sportzpoint, said, "These young boys have been representing Bengal for quite a while now. Unlike how the Cricket Association of Bengal badge has been neglected and played around with by certain people, these boys well and truly know the worth of the Bengal shirt. Therefore, if given a proper run of games for the senior side, these boys will everything for that badge. And they deserve to do so, given how they have performed in age-group cricket."


Writtick Chatterjee, over the span of the last few seasons, has gone from being a batting all-rounder to a bowling all-rounder to a pinch hitter to a middle-order batsman and then back to being a bowling all-rounder. Writtick, who was a batting all-rounder when he first appeared for Bengal, has not taken too kindly to his treatment as a batter. Writtick has a batting average of 35 batting at 6/7 in club cricket.

Suvankar Bal started off as an opener in age-group cricket alongside keeping wicket occasionally. Since donning Bengal colours, he has more often than not found himself walking out to bat with more or less half the side down and only a few balls left to play since his debut match last season, a Syed Mushtaq Ali group match against Odisha in which he played as a specialist batter at number 3. Incidentally, the person whom he had replaced as a wicket-keeper both times was opening batsman Shreevats Goswami.

His part-time job of keeping wicket has now turned into full-time, and so, a bulk of his training involves concentrating on improving on that front rather than honing his power-hitting skills. Bal, though, has done considerably well so far with the gloves. He had also scored a half-century against Haryana batting at number 5 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last season.

Ritwik Roy Chowdhury has also been a victim of Bengal's chopping and changing policy within the same group of players. Roy Chowdhury, who is best suited to bat 5 and finish an innings off, started off batting at 6 in the 2019/20 Vijay Hazare Trophy, then was briefly promoted to 3 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, then demoted to the lower-middle order, was promoted to number 3 again the following season against Saurashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, was demoted to the middle-order again… get the gist.

These were merely examples of the cricketers who have been striving to establish themselves as permanent members of the 11. Not just are they unclear of what role is required from them, it is coming at the expense of these three approaching the wrong side of their 20s. Bengal's batting line-up since 2018 in both the white-ball competitions has been more inconsistent than Manchester United Football Club's form in the recent past. The most recent casualty of Bengal's poor player management is Ranjot Singh Kharia, who first went without getting a game in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and then did not get to bat in his natural position in both the matches he played in.

21-year-old Karan Lal's usage was bizarre in nature as well; Lal, a bowling all-rounder, played a few quickfire knocks in the Bengal T20 Challenge having been promoted up the order for Kolkata Heroes prior to the start of the domestic season. As a result, he was required to perform the same role in an actual domestic competition, his bowling output being deemed secondary. Eventually, he was left out of the XI owing to team combination factors and didn't get to play another game.

It's always the wrong set of players that are backed vehemently. Kaif Ahmed rose to fame in the Bengal Cricket Circuit after smashing a hundred against Town Club in the Bengal T20 Challenge last year. He finished as the third-highest run-scorer in the competition and subsequently earned a place in both of Bengal's Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophy squad. Having played all but one match, his returns were decent but weren't of much impact; 73 runs at an average of 36.5 and 184 runs at an average of 36.8 in 3 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy respectively.

Bengal failed to make it to the knockouts in both competitions last season. The fact that they played their entire Syed Mushtaq Ali group stage campaign on home soil only makes the reading worse.

Kaif, despite having a forgettable Bengal T20 Challenge this year, played every white-ball game up until the Vijay Hazare Trophy encounter against Mumbai. In 6 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches, Kaif managed a total of 104 runs at 17.3 runs a game. It took him 93 balls to score 67 in Bengal's opening Vijay Hazare Trophy match against Baroda, out of which he played 50 dot balls. Scores of 0 and 10 in the following couple of games was the final straw for him.

Bengal have also had a reputation of restricting their squad to a selected few members across formats. Even if they aren't reputed to be specialists in a certain format, they'd still be in the team, irrespective of their performance. For instance, Abhimanyu Easwaran, currently one of the best red-ball batsmen in Bengal, played in all the white-ball competitions in 2019. This eventually hampered his Ranji Trophy prowess in 2019; he only managed 258 runs in 10 innings at an average of 17.2 compared to his tally of 861 runs in 6 innings the previous season. Given that Easwaran is one of Bengal's brightest prospects to play Test match cricket for India, it is definitely not ideal.

Whenever Bengal exits a tournament, it's the players that are the ones in the firing line. Whether it's Sudip Chatterjee's off form with the bat or Mukesh Kumar conceding heaps of runs at the death, the players' credibility and commitment are always under scrutiny. It's about time the team management and administration took some accountability and owned up to their mistakes, for there have been far too many of them to be brushed under the carpet. Perhaps the tweets attached below might give some perspective as to how lowly rated Bengal cricket is outside Bengal.


It's been 10 years since the Bengal Men's cricket team have last lifted a domestic trophy. Since then, they have achieved a finals berth once each in the 2016/17 Vijay Hazare Trophy and the 2019/20 Ranji Trophy. Other than that, there is not much to write home about.

And yet, the projection of the team's performance by the team management and the board is such that a victory against a Mumbai or a Karnataka is the ultimate feat. Or advancing to the knockouts, despite no one giving the team a chance of being able to do so being a massive achievement in itself.

The worst part is that this narrative is slowly starting to seep in among the Bengal players, which is proving to be fatal in nature. Not only could it prove to be uninspiring and demotivating for the current crop of cricketers, it might also promote a culture of mediocrity among the younger players, who, in return, will learn to perform the bare minimum on the cricket field and consider to have completed their job.

This practice of accepting mediocrity has also caught with the followers of Bengal cricket, who have accustomed themselves to celebrating such minor achievements. The moment they see a constructive statement critiquing the standard of cricket, they would jump in to defend their favourite team by citing the same minor achievements.

This is where the top domestic white-ball teams such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi, Mumbai are advanced; their mindset is at an elite level. Forget being satisfied by a knockout exit, these teams literally strive to win every single trophy every year, irrespective of the situation of the team or the quality of the players. They do so with their deeds, not words. Of course, having supportive management and the presence of IPL franchises in their cricket circuit helps them develop this mindset to a large extent.

On the topic of the IPL franchises, the likes of the Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore, and Delhi Capitals are deeply involved with their local state teams. Therefore, it doesn't require the state teams to perform exceedingly well in the domestic circuit to promote their players, it's the franchises that complete the job.

For example, N. Srinivasan, the owner of the Chennai Super Kings, launched the Tamil Nadu Premier League in 2016 in order to scout talented players from different districts in Tamil Nadu. The results have been nothing but outstanding for Tamil Nadu's white-ball cricket fortunes. A large number of players have secured IPL contracts on the back of performing in the TNPL over the years, and some of them hadn't even played for their domestic cricket team until then.

Other IPL teams have followed suit to an extent. The RCB team management has been closely following the Karnataka Premier League in order to help in getting a talented player enlisted in the auctions. Deciding upon bidding for the player in the auctions or not is a different decision altogether. The Mumbai Indians have set up their own facilities in the outskirts of Mumbai, where the franchise cricketers and even the local cricketers can visit for practice.

The state cricket boards have also been cooperative in helping the franchises in doing so. Unfortunately for Bengal and its cricketers, the Kolkata Knight Riders, for one, their supposed local franchise's office, the Knight Riders Sports Pvt. Ltd. is situated at Santacruz West, Mumbai. In 2019, instead of setting up an academy in the home state, they set it up in Bangalore to nurture domestic players. The only time the people of Bengal get to see a glimpse of the franchise is when they visit Kolkata to play their home matches of the IPL.

Therefore, due to the non-involvement of any IPL franchises, the district and club cricketers of Bengal, who play the CAB-organized T20 competitions, cannot exhibit their talent and ability on a larger scale. Hence, even if there were any T20 cricketer of decent quality in the Bengal cricketing circuit, their exploits go unnoticed, and as a result, their cricketing prowess goes unnurtured.

Given that there hasn't been anything said on the same by the local state cricket board, one thing that can be implied is that it is the Cricket Association of Bengal who has been reluctant to join forces with the Kolkata Knight Riders in regard to the wellness of the local cricketers. It could be due to legal or financial reasons, but at the end of the day, it is the cricketers who suffer.


Arnab Nandi raised another vital point in the conversation with Sportzpoint, one on voting rights of first-class cricketers in Bengal. The spin-bowling all-rounder, who has 815 runs and 37 wickets in 28 first-class matches, said, "The reason behind Mumbai being such a powerhouse in domestic cricket over the years is because of the transparency they have with the Mumbai Cricket Association. The cricketers who are in the first-class cricket scheme of Mumbai get to decide what's best for the players and the future of the state cricket team. Consequently, they can also determine the candidate best suited to run the organization.

"Over here in Bengal, there is nothing of that sort. The power to dictate Bengal cricket rests on a very limited number of members from clubs who haven't had much success in the Kolkata Club Cricket circuit. As a result, it's the players from these clubs that get to represent the state on a regular basis. The players from older, bigger, more successful cricket clubs of Kolkata face deprivation on that front.

"Now, if the first-class cricketers of Bengal, on the basis of their reputation, hold the rights to vote, like Mumbai, they can get to decide the best interests of Bengal cricket. And much like Mumbai, the Bengal cricketers can decide whom to appoint as the administrator so that Bengal cricket's future is prosperous."  

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