Ranji Trophy: The Arun Lal factor in Bengal's run to the final

Bengal has reached its first Ranji Trophy final in 13 years, with head coach Arun Lal transforming the team into a contender to win the competition.

Arun Lal

Bengal head coach Arun Lal feels his team hasn't played to its full potential yet.   -  P. K. Ajith Kumar

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.

Amazing became commonplace for a side which 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. He said unavailability of an accomplished player gave opportunity to a youngster and built the bench strength.

Six debutants, including 31-year-old seamer Nilkantha Das, got to serve Bengal. The established ones contributed as well.

The Vision 2020 programme – which extended its sphere to include the Ranji players – helped.

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The foundation of the turnaround was laid in the pre-season. Since July 25, the players went through rigorous training to be ready for bigger challenges.

An old-school 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.

“When I made these boys run for 25 rounds, there was a lot of criticism.”

Lal ignored the write-ups in the press, which mocked by asking whether the Bengal cricketers would be competing in the Olympics.

The 64-year-old’s method is now vindicated.

The pre-season also included training in the rainy season, on clay turf and synthetic balls.

A St. Stephen’s College alumnus brought up in Delhi, Lal – the former India opener and a member of the Bengal side that won the Ranji Trophy 30 years ago – had a rare combination of intelligence and ruthlessness in his coaching. An extremely positive person, who overcame cancer, Lal turned a group of docile individuals into a bunch of winners.

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, “Lal ji 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.

According to Lal, Bengal has the best attack in the country. Captain Abhimanyu Easwaran concurs.

As 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.

Bengal, which recorded four outright wins in its group, made a statement by stunning Vijay Hazare and Mushtaq Ali champion Karnataka in the semifinal. Shahbaz bowling only one over in the match spoke about the depth in the attack.

Ahead of the final against Saurashtra, Lal said, “We have got a fabulous group of boys. Yet we are below our potential. God help the opposition when we get everything right.”

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