Coach Arun Lal, the hard task-master who oversaw Bengal’s magical journey in the Ranji Trophy this season, says there is no magic formula and there is no substitute for hard work.
In fact, hard work was the magic mantra that scripted the revival of Bengal. The side found itself in a soup every now and then but found a way to fight back.
“It’s the team which matters, individuals don’t,” Lal kept saying. Six debutants, including 31-year-old seamer Nilkantha Das, got to serve Bengal even as the established ones contributed as well.
The Vision 2020 programme — which extended its sphere to include the Ranji players — helped.
The foundation of the turnaround was laid in the pre-season. Since July 25, the players have gone through rigorous training to be ready for bigger challenges.
Lal shared how Bishan Bedi once put the Punjab team through a back-breaking pre-season. “He made the guys run. Even if someone threw up, then he said, ‘Okay, now do another round.’ The 200-odd boys came down to 120 and eventually to 40.”
Lal added, “When I made these boys run for 25 rounds, there was a lot of criticism.” He ignored the write-ups in the press which mocked the idea by asking whether the Bengal cricketers would be competing in the Olympics. The 64-year-old’s method is now vindicated.
A St. Stephen’s College alumnus brought up in Delhi, Lal — a former India opener and a member of the Bengal side that won the Ranji Trophy 30 years ago. Lal, who overcame cancer, is an extremely positive person, combining intelligence and ruthlessness in coaching.
Former captain Manoj Tiwary acknowledges Lal’s contribution.
“Lal sir is very upright and speaks from the heart. He keeps everyone under pressure.”
Bowling consultant Ranadeb Bose adds, “Lalji has not been talking about winning Ranji Trophy, he has been talking about doing our job well.”
Even in the absence of Ashoke Dinda and Mohammed Shami, the lesser-known pacers showed discipline and worked like a team. As a bowling unit, Bengal has given away a maximum of 250 runs in an innings only once.
Ishan Porel (22 wickets) raised his performance, Mukesh (30) showed maturity, Akash Deep (30) made an impact in his debut season and Nilkantha was exceptional within his limits.
When the top-order batting failed on several instances, the middle order rose to the occasion. Anustup Mjumdar (641 runs) and Shahbaz Ahmed (493 runs, 30 wickets) produced some match-winning performances. Tiwary (672) also played his part in crucial moments.
Ahead of the final against Saurashtra, Lal said, “We have got a fabulous group of boys. Yet we are below our potential.
“God helps the opposition when we get everything right.”