Bengal T20 Challenge 2021: 20 cricketers to keep an eye on

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(l-R) Ritwik Roy Choudhury, Abhishek Raman, Arnab Nandi, Kazi Junaid Saifi, Anustup Majumder and Sudip Chatterjee, captains of their respective teams, pose for a photo after the launch of the teams' kits
The second edition of the Bengal T20 Challenge is set to start off the Cricket season in Kolkata with 6 teams from 6 different districts.
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The 2nd edition of the Bengal T20 challenge is set to start off the Cricket season in Kolkata. Unlike the previous edition, which featured 6 Cricket clubs registered under the Cricket Association of Bengal, this season will comprise of the same number of teams, but based on cities from 6 different districts, namely, Kanchenjunga (Darjeeling), Kharagpur (West Medinipur), Krishnanagar (Nadia), Durgapur (Bardhaman), Kolkata, and Barrackpore (North 24 Parganas). Sponsored by Byju’s, the entirety of the league, like last year, will take place at the Eden Gardens and will be streamed live on FanCode.

The Fixtures for the entire tournament. The 2021 Bengal T20 Challenge is set to be a 17-day affair

The commencement of the tournament is set to take place tomorrow, the 7th of September. The teams were picked with the help of a draft process at the Fairfield Marriott on Saturday, and the unveiling of the teams’ kits was also done on the same day. The list of members of all 6 teams are given below:   

One major criterion of preparing the 120-player roster was that the Cricketers eligible to play for the state’s domestic team were being looked at, therefore certain players from Bengal, who have had to shift allegiances to Railways for different reasons have had to miss out on this 17-day tournament. Due to the increasing problem of cricketers hailing from different states coming to West Bengal and identifying themselves as locals to get into the Bengal cricket setup, resulting in the deprivation of local cricketers from progress, CAB also ran a verification process and weeded out a list of cricketers with disputed/suspect documents, all of whom have been prevented from taking part in this competition as well.

Among the 120 players, there are several candidates who we think can make the most out of this window of opportunity. We have narrowed it down to the 20 most promising ones among them, which are as follows:

Note: This is a guest article. The authors hold the rights and control over the choice of the players.

Sudip Kumar Gharami (Kanchenjunga Warriors)

Much like the biggest Cricketing icon of Bengal and current BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, Sudip Gharami’s domestic cricketing debut match was a Ranji Trophy final, after he was brought in the squad in place of an injured Koushik Ghosh for the ultimate encounter against Saurashtra at Rajkot in March 2020. One of Bengal’s most promising prospects over the years, he announced himself in age-group cricket with twin hundreds against Assam and Odisha in the U16 Vijay Merchant Trophy in 2014. He amassed a total of 694 runs in the 2018/19 U23 Col. CK Nayudu trophy, studded with 6 half-centuries and a hundred. The following season, he played a major role in Bengal’s U23 One Day Trophy triumph with 509 runs in 11 innings at an average of 46.27, finishing 3rd in the highest run-scorers list.

Having started his club cricket career for Salkia Friends Association at 15, Gharami gradually moved up the ranks and secured a transfer to East Bengal from Barisha Sporting this year. Gharami, who missed out on T20 Cricket action last season, is ready to make his mark in the format this year, starting tomorrow.

Role: Opener, Right-Handed Batsman

Diganta Neogi (Krishnanagar Challengers)

A young prodigy who had emerged as a prominent six-hitter from the age-group ranks, Diganta Neogi’s cricketing career took a hit after a shoulder injury sidelined him from the sport for a long, long time. Neogi, who aggregated 416 runs in the 2018/19 Cooch Behar Trophy, returned to the playing field 11 months after a shoulder surgery. Donning the colours of George Telegraph, Neogi hit 203 runs over 4 innings in the First Division One Day Trophy last season, averaging 67.67 and striking at 84.58. Although he could not replicate the same form in the JC Mukherjee Trophy, Neogi now has a great opportunity to redeem himself, having been picked up by Krishnanagar Challengers.

Role: Opener, Right-Handed Batsman

Arnab Sikder (Kolkata Heroes)

The only second division player in the entire roster of 120 players, it can be safely said that Arnab Sikder has well and truly earned his place in the Bengal T20 Challenge roster, having performed brilliantly with both bat and ball in the second division over the last 3-4 years. Much like Sandipan Das Sr, he can be described as a utility player.

Although he had an underwhelming Inter-District Tournament last season, Sikder, who played for Taltala Institute in the 2nd Division, was the leading run-scorer in the NC Chatterjee T20 Trophy with 420 in 7 innings, averaging 70 and striking at 168.67. To go along with that, he took 6 wickets in the 6 games that he bowled in. The fact that Sikder will get an opportunity to showcase his talent at this level, without having to go through a season of first division cricket is a majorly encouraging sign for every rookie club cricketer across divisions.

Role: Opener, Right-Handed Batsman

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Kazi Junaid Saifi (Captain, Kharagpur Blasters)

There was this incident that took place about 5 years ago that can best describe the talent in possession of the above-mentioned southpaw. A second division Cricket team attended a practice session at the Customs Cricket Ground, which also happened to host a first division (3-day) cricket match on the same day. Upon entering the ground, the cricketers of the second division team came across the sight of Kazi commencing his innings for his then club, Shyambazar. The group of cricketers, having completed their warm-up, gazed their eyes back on the ground and saw Kazi still in the middle. They completed their first session of practice and went for some refreshments. Upon return, they saw that Kazi was still there. As the 2nd session of play went by, the second division cricketers, having completed their practice session by then, gazed their attention back in the middle of the field and saw Kazi complete his hundred. The umpires called tea, the group of boys, now completely switched to viewers, eventually witnessed the then 18-year-old Kazi bat and bat and complete a double hundred by the end of the day.

A batsman possessing great flair and charismatic strokeplay, Kazi’s first cricketing experience in a Bengal shirt was when he was only 14, on an age-group tour to Bangladesh. Since then, he has been representing the state in various age-group tournaments, playing a pivotal part in both the trophies Bengal have achieved at age-group level in the last 5 years; 542 runs at an average of 41.69 in the 2016/17 Cooch Behar Trophy, and 499 runs at an average of 62.38 in the 2019/20 U23 One Day Trophy, alongside the additional responsibility of leading the team. He finished as the highest run-scorer for Town Club in the previous edition of the Bengal T20 Challenge with a total of 246 in 8 innings.

Role: Opener/middle-order bat, Left-Handed Batsman

Ranjot Singh Khaira (Kolkata Heroes)

Ever since a disappointing 2020 Bengal T20 Challenge campaign, Ranjot Singh Khaira, a middle-order batsman of accumulative nature, turned things around for better in the remainder of the club cricket season. Having secured a move to East Bengal after a prolific 2019/20 season for Paikpara Sporting Club, Khaira was vehemently backed by his new club, which eventually paid off handsomely. Khaira, batting at 3 in the entire JC Mukherjee 2020/21 campaign, helped his side earn a spot in the final with 373 runs in 8 innings, averaging 74.6 at a strike rate of 165.04, which included an unbeaten hundred against Monohar Pukur Milan Samity.

Role: Middle-order bat, Right-Handed Batsman

Ayan Gupta (Krishnanagar Challengers)

One very encouraging matter that has emerged from the draft process for the league is that it has been made evident that the Cricket Association of Bengal has not only focused on performances in age-group or club Cricket for the selection process, but has also factored in the feats performed by the local cricketers in the Inter T20 District Competition. The selection of Ayan Gupta and a few more members is a testament to that. Gupta, featuring for a title-winning Nadia Super Dazzlers side, finished as the third-highest run-scorer of the Inter-District competition. Not only did he finish with 201 runs in the 5 innings that he batted in out of the 6 matches, he remained not out in 4 out of them, which meant that his average of 201 stood out monumentally from the rest. To think that he did all of that with a strike rate of 143.57 makes it more remarkable and his selection more justifiable.

About Gupta, he has mostly batted at number 3, playing the role of an accumulator. He expertises batting against spin, often targeting the square areas of the wicket. Like most players of his kind, he is extremely swift between the wickets, which also makes him a better batsman on a cricket field with bigger boundaries.

Role: Middle-order bat, Right-Handed Batsman

Agniv Pan (Krishnanagar Challengers)

Coming from a family of athletes, Agniv Pan’s sporting career began as both a cricketer and a hurdler. A silver medallist in the 110-meter hurdle race at the National Youth Athletics, Pan was voted as Bengal’s best U16 Cricketer back in 2013. Despite his prowess in athletics, Pan has had prioritized the game of cricket all along. On his domestic Cricket debut for Bengal against Maharashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy Quarter-Final in 2017, Pan walked out to bat at 3 with his side chasing a steep target of 319 and hit a brisk 47 off 37, which contributed to a record run-chase for Bengal and helped them seal a semi-finals’ spot.

Pan, who also doubles up as a wicket-keeper when required, had accumulated a total of 173 runs in 4 innings, averaging 86.5 at a strike rate of 190.11 for Bhawanipore Cricket Club in the JC Mukherjee Trophy held earlier this year. His highest score in the tournament, an unbeaten 58 off 31 deliveries in the final against East Bengal, propelled his team’s total to 188 and help them earn victory eventually.    

Role: Middle-order bat, wicket-keeper, Left-Handed Batsman

Suprodip Debnath (Kanchenjunga Warriors)

Much like his Nadia teammate Ayan Gupta, Suprodip Debnath has benefitted from CAB’s attention to the Inter-District T20 performances. Debnath, who also kept wicket for his district side, did not have the most unforgettable tournament, but he certainly had the most phenomenal end to the campaign, having smashed an unbeaten knock of 99 off 56, laced with 4 fours and 8 sixes in the final against North 24 Parganas at the Eden Gardens.

Debnath, who also plays club Cricket for Ballygunge United in Kolkata, was adjudged player of the match in the final. If anything, the quality of that one knock was good enough to warrant him a spot in the 120-player roster for the T20 league. Debnath is set to play for Kanchenjunga Warriors and would be eager to replicate his effort from 4 months back, this time at a bigger stage.

Role: Wicket-keeper, Right-Handed Batsman

Abishek Porel (Durgapur Dazzlers)

Possibly the best wicket-keeper among the players in this list, Abishek Porel is also a beneficiary of CAB’s focus towards district cricket. The southpaw, featuring for his hometown Chandannagore, finished as the 6th highest run-getter in the Inter-District competition last season with 191 runs in 6 matches to go along with a total of 10 dismissals from behind the stumps. Although not related to Bengal pacer Ishan, the duo, virtually next-door neighbours, have been very good friends since childhood, having grown into their cricketing career during the same time-span and been mentored by the same person, Bibhas Das.

Porel, who will possibly feature in the Cooch Behar Trophy for one last time this season, scored a total of 515 runs in the 2019/20 season at an average of 42.92, all alongside doing a bulk of the glovework duty. As for his glovework, he appears to be a nimble-footed, athletic wicket-keeper who has a good reach on either side of the wicket, which can provide a sense of assurance to his team’s quick bowlers.

Role: Wicket-keeper, Left-Handed Batsman

Dipanjan Mukherjee (Kanchenjunga Warriors)

Possibly the hardest hitter of the cricket ball in the Bengal cricket circuit, Dipanjan’s defining moment in his cricketing career so far was when he achieved the feat of clearing the boundary six times in an over off Mohammed Nasim in a first division cricket match between Netaji Subhash Institute and Mohammedan Sporting Club at the High Court Cricket Ground. Mukherjee, representing Netaji Subhash Institute, smashed the Mohammedan Sporting medium-pacer first over deep mid-wicket, and then over cow corner, long-on, long-off, deep backward square leg, and then cow corner again. His innings ended two short of a memorable double hundred as he looked to clear the ropes and was caught at long-on.

Mukherjee, who had to leave Bengal for the Railways domestic cricket team owing to his job commitments, has been unable to attract the attention of the bigger clubs of Kolkata. However, a return to the city might have turned things around for him for better, for starters, he has achieved a place in the Kanchenjunga Warriors outfit. A very tidy-allrounder who can also bowl medium pace, Mukherjee hasn’t had as decorated a cricket season as his peers, but boasts of a strike rate of 178 in the two innings that he batted in the CAB Inter District T20 Competition earlier this year. Adding to that, he also picked up 4 wickets in the three matches he featured in for North 24 Parganas.

Role: Batting All-rounder, Right-Handed Batsman, Right Arm Medium Bowler

Sandipan Das (Sr.) (Durgapur Dazzlers)

The ICC U19 World Cup-winning Indian squad has had one of the most underachieving batches of cricketers. While more prominent figures such as Unmukt Chand and Smit Patel have had to migrate to the other side of the globe to revive their cricketing careers, there were two representatives from Bengal in that squad that have not even been able to break into the Indian domestic circuit for good, one of them being right-arm quick Ravikant Singh, the other being Sandipan Das. Despite having performed with both bat and ball for years, the current skipper of the Bhawanipore Cricket Club hasn’t been able to earn a call-up for a first-class game.

The best feature that can be attributed to Das Sr. is that if he fails to make an impact in one department, be it with the bat or ball, somehow, he would find a way to contribute in the other. Besides being a reliable middle-order batsman, Das is an expert in taking the pace off the ball, possessing a plethora of slower ball variations in his arsenal.

Role: All-rounder, Right-Handed Batsman, Right Arm Medium Bowler

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Arka Sarkar (Durgapur Dazzlers)

Arka Sarkar’s club cricketing journey took off at Dakshin Kolkata Sansad in 2017/18, as he scored 321 runs and took 7 wickets in one season of division cricket, which eventually helped him earn an U19 cap for Bengal in the following domestic season. Following that, he signed for East Bengal, and has been playing for them ever since.

Arka Sarkar, fondly nicknamed ‘Rabada’ in the club Cricket circuit due to his resemblance with the South African pacer’s body structure and bowling action, hasn’t been able to operate at the same level as he did for his first 1st division club, but given the fact that faith has been put on him time and time again, he is bound to deliver at some point, the best time being in the next few days.  

Role: All-rounder, Right-Handed Batsman, Right Arm Medium Fast Bowler

Subham Sarkar (Kanchenjunga Warriors)

Mentored by former Bengal fast bowler and fellow Tufanganj resident Shib Shankar Paul, Subham started out as a pacer before his batting prowess encouraged him to focus on a second skill. His breakthrough season was with the ABP Sports Club in 2017/18, in which he scored 446 runs in ten innings with a couple of hundreds and fifties each batting lower down the order in Division Cricket to go along with 20 wickets, which eventually helped him earn a call-up to the Bengal U23 squad. The following year, he virtually carried his team to the final of the JC Mukherjee Trophy, finishing the competition with 119 runs and 7 wickets in 5 matches. Walking in at 77/5 in the 14th over, Subham smashed a 22-ball 45, which took his side to a total of 142. Mohun Bagan chased the total down in 18.4 overs with 6 wickets to spare.

Of course, having been mentored by a renowned former fast bowler, Subham has honed his skills with the ball quite a lot. Primarily a bowler who moves it off the air, Subham can bring the ball back a long way into right-handers due to the fact that his release is quite close to his body. In the 4 matches that he featured for the Maharaja of Cooch Behar Cricket team in the Inter-District T20 last season, he scored 164 runs at an average of 82, his strike rate being 131.2. With Bengal on the hunt for a long-term limited-overs fast-bowling all-rounder since Laxmi Ratan Shukla’s retirement, Subham Sarkar, who presently plays club cricket for Kalighat, is a good contender to end the search.

Role: All-rounder, Left-Handed Batsman, Right Arm Medium Fast Bowler

Pradipta Pramanik (Kharagpur Blasters)

Only 16 when he first broke into the senior Bengal domestic team, Pradipta Pramanik can be touted as the most experienced cricketer among his age-group teammates. A tall and lanky left-arm orthodox spinner, Pramanik often focuses on bowling stump-to-stump, varying his deliveries frequently.

In 7 first-class matches, he has picked up 25 wickets at an average of 24.65. Pramanik has also made a total of 12 appearances in domestic white-ball cricket, picking up a total of 17 wickets across both formats.

He packs a punch with the bat as well, as suggested from the few whirlwind knocks that he has played down the order. A notable example would be the unbeaten 37 off 38 that he hit against Delhi in the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy, trying to help Bengal eke out a first-innings lead. Had it not been for the emergence of Shahbaz Ahmed, Pramanik might have been a regular in the senior Bengal men’s team by now.  

Pramanik was also part of the winning U19 Cooch Behar squad, picking up 15 wickets in the 3 matches that he played, and the U23 One Day winning squad, in which he was the third-highest wicket-taker with 24 wickets in 11 matches, his overall economy rate being a meagre 4.

Role: Bowling All-rounder, Right-Handed Batsman, Slow Left-Arm Orthodox

Kanishk Seth (Krishnanagar Challengers)

The only cricketer in this list to possess an Indian Premier League winners’ medal, Kanishk Seth was picked up by the Chennai Super Kings at a base price of 20 Lakh in the 2018 IPL auction. Although he went through the tournament without a single game, Seth proved to be a pivotal member of the squad due to the fact that he was the only left-arm quick in their roster, and he helped out the CSK batsman accordingly in the nets.

Seth, who was trained by former Indian left-arm seamer Kharsan Ghavri during his U16 days, caught everyone’s eye by bowling at a speed of 132 clicks and picking up 4 wickets against Himachal Pradesh in the 2014 KSCA tournament. He had picked up 34 wickets in the Vijay Merchant Trophy earlier that year and was awarded the U16 player of the year. He was selected to attend a camp at the MRF pace foundation, but was unable to go due to restrictions from the CAB. Kanishk then left Bengal for a spell with the Railways, but now has made a return and looks set to re-join the Bengal squad. A very handy lower-order batsman as well, Seth smashed a 16-ball half-century for East Bengal in the last year’s edition of the Bengal T20 Challenge against Kalighat.  

Role: Bowling all-rounder, Right-Handed Batsman, Left-Arm Fast

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Golam Mustafa (Krishnanagar Challengers)

There is no doubt about the fact that India has talented cricketers in abundance. Unfortunately, due to several factors, most people fail to make any progress. That has certainly not been the case for Birbhum’s Golam Mustafa, whose career graph has taken a massive hike in the last three years.

Mustafa started out as a second-division cricketer at Baranagore Sporting. A tremendous 2019/20 Cooch Behar Trophy campaign, in which he picked up 43 wickets at an average of 16.62 in 8 matches, ensured that Arun Lal and the rest of the Bengal team management called him up to the Bengal squad mid-way through the Ranji Trophy that season.

An out-and-out seam bowler, Mustafa can generate a lot of movement off even a non-assistive deck. Adding to that, he has tremendous control over line and length, which makes him virtually unplayable on a green top. Mustafa, who currently plays for Barisha Sporting Cricket Club, picked up 6 wickets in 3 JC Mukherjee Trophy matches and 8 wickets in 5 Inter-District T20 matches for Birbhum.

Role: Bowler, Right-Arm Medium Fast

Debopratim Halder (Kolkata Heroes)

Mustafa’s new ball bowling partner in the 2019/20 Cooch Behar Trophy and presently at Barisha Sporting, Halder has been revered by a few pundits as the next best upcoming Bengal pacer after Ishan Porel. Halder, a member of last year’s Bengal T20 Challenge winners Tapan Memorial Club, is reputed as a bowler who has raw, sheer pace.

Halder, featuring for Biplabi Chandannagore in the Inter-District T20 last season, picked up 7 wickets in 6 matches, at an economy rate of 6.67. With Akash Deep currently being the fastest bowler in the Bengal Cricket circuit, it would be a good sight for fans of Bengal to see some competition on that front, and Halder, who will be donning the mauve colours of Kolkata Heroes in the upcoming competition, would be the ideal candidate for that.

Role: Bowler, Right-Arm Fast

Sandipan Das (Jr) (Kharagpur Blasters)

The 6th highest wicket-taker in the 2016/17 Cooch Behar Trophy, Sandipan Das Jr. played a pivotal role in Bengal’s triumph in the tournament with 36 wickets across 12 innings at an average of 19.63. Sandipan also had a major role to play with the ball for the U23 One Day title-winning Bengal team, picking up 21 wickets in 11 matches.

Das Jr., who used to emulate celebrations of famous footballers after taking wickets, has not been able to make it to the senior Bengal side due to stiff competition. Unlike his namesake, Das Jr. has only one major, potent skill; bowling fast. Although he has picked up a total of 19 wickets across both the club and district T20 competitions, his economy rate is a matter of concern, 8.69 in the JC Mukherjee Trophy and 9.56 in the Inter-District T20 competition. Once he figures out the way to be miserly and maintain his wicket-taking streak, he is bound to have a lot more opportunities to play at a higher level.

Role: Bowler, Right-Arm Fast

Ankit Mishra (Barrackpore Bashers)

The highest wicket-taker in the First Division One Day tournament last season, Ankit Mishra, also a member of the U23 One Day Trophy-winning Bengal side, was picked by Barrackpore Bashers for this year’s edition of the Bengal T20 Challenge. A left-arm spinner who loves to give the ball a bit of air and beat batsmen with sharp turn, Mishra took 6 wickets in the 3 JC Mukherjee T20 Trophy matches he played in last season. A massive contingent of left-arm spinners in the Bengal cricketing circuit, some of whom can also bat, does not really help Mishra’s case, but he has provided us with evidence to prove that he certainly does have the ability to make an impact.

Role: Bowler, Slow Left-Arm Orthodox

Rajarshi Mitra (Barrackpore Bashers)

Yet another member of the U19 Cooch Behar title-winning Bengal squad in 2016/17, Rajarshi Mitra played a major role for his state side in the final against Delhi, taking 3 wickets for 65 runs. Primarily an off-break bowler, Mitra, who was picked by the Calcutta Customs Club in last year’s T20 Challenge, currently plights his trade for Aryan Cricket Club in Kolkata.

Although he has performed considerably well in the club cricket circuit since then, taking 32 wickets in 10 first division league matches and 8 wickets in 4 JC Mukherjee T20 trophy matches in the 2018/19 club cricket season, Mitra hasn’t had much success in the T20 format last season, and neither has had as much playing time as desired. Therefore, Mitra can be adjudged as one more cricketer for whom this league is of utmost importance.   

Role: Bowler, Right-Arm Off-Break

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