It is not easy to lead a side from Bengal. Football or cricket, the fandom in that part of the world is always ten notches higher than normal. And Abhimanyu Easwaran is trying his best to keep the boys calm ahead of their first Ranji Trophy final in 13 years.
Bengal knows the route to the title will be tortuous with Cheteshwar Pujara back to bolster the Saurashtra batting line-up. The young captain is confident of cracking the code. “They have one Pujara in the side, but Karnataka had two or three big names [K.L. Rahul, Karun Nair and Manish Pandey]. The way our boys bowled to them, with that attitude, it was exciting. They didn’t look at any names, they just bowled their heart out.
Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Bengal's topsy-turvy road to the final
“It is great to see these guys defending 300 on a decent track against a very good line-up,” the 24-year-old told Sportstar ahead of the big final in Rajkot starting from Monday.
How Bengal is doing it
After making a match out of impossible situations in the middle, Bengal is high on belief. It made the most of the rest days before the long travel — no direct flights — to Rajkot from Kolkata. “We were trying to relax and recover for two days before getting back into the groove. We need to make plans for that particular wicket and gradually figure out how to handle which batsman and how to play against a particular bowler,” said Abhimanyu, adding how Bengal could turn the tide repeatedly in the season. “The guys understood the possibilities. If openers were not getting runs, the middle-order was trying to hold, if they failed, the tail tried to stay on the wicket to compete. No matter what situation we are in, we can make a comeback. The players have that belief.
"We were 46/5 in the quarterfinal against Odisha, we were 123 all out in the first innings against Rajasthan. And in the semifinal against Karnataka, we were 67/6. From there, Anustup Majumder scored a hundred. If we can just score 300 from 67/6, we can win any game.”
Captaincy and form
Abhimanyu averages 43.92 in first-class cricket. The boy from Dehradun, who moved to Kolkata to play professional cricket at a young age, already has 13 centuries. But the 2019-20 season, which marked his debut as Bengal captain in all formats, wasn’t too kind. There is only one fifty under his belt; the gutsy 62 against Rajasthan.
Ranji Trophy final: My presence will give confidence to Saurashtra's batsmen - Cheteshwar Pujara
“The team comes first. And I am happy we are in the finals. On the personal front, I always want to contribute for the team. But this is my first year as captain in all formats. Four-day cricket is long format and you go through tough sessions. The one-day games are different. It finishes in a few hours. But here, you need to understand the challenges of captaincy every new day. It is a learning process and so far, great experience because the guys are responding well,” he reasoned.
The Saha factor
The addition of Saha in the Bengal squad is a big boost. It doesn’t cause much trouble to the set combination as regular ‘keeper Sreevats Goswami is good enough to play only as a batsman.
Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Saurashtra's road to the final
Either Arnab Nandi or Abhishek Raman is likely to make way for Saha. “That call we can take later. Saha is a very good team man. It feels great to have him. He knows different conditions and brings his experience. He has played big finals. The way he keeps, the way he bats, he is a very good player,” said Abhimanyu.
At 24 years, 185 days, Abhimanyu will be one of the youngest captains in a Ranji final.
Youngest captains in a Ranji Trophy final:
Rishabh Pant: 20 years, 86 days (Delhi vs Vidarbha, 2017-18)
Sachin Tendulkar: 21 years, 337 days (Bombay vs Punjab, 1994-95)
Rohit Motwani: 23 years, 47 days (Maharashtra vs Karnataka, 2013-14)
Pinal Shah: 23 years, 69 days (Baroda vs Rajasthan, 2010-11)
Vijay Merchant: 23 years, 143 days (Bombay vs Holkar, 1944-45)
Ambar Roy: 23 years, 255 days (Bengal vs Bombay, 1968-69)
Robin Uthappa: 24 years, 61 days (Karnataka vs Mumbai, 2009-10)
Abhimanyu Easwaran: 24 years, 185 days (Bengal vs Saurashtra, 2019-20)