Bengal last won the Ranji Trophy title in the 1989-90 season, when 17-year-old Sourav Ganguly replaced elder brother Snehasish in the rain-interrupted final against Delhi at the Eden Gardens.
The two-time champion - Bengal won its maiden title in 1938-39 - has made the finals twice in the new millennium: in the 2005-06 season, when it lost to Uttar Pradesh and then in 2006-07, when it was undone by Mumbai.
Deep Dasgupta, former India wicketkeeper-batsman and Bengal captain, weighs in on the factors holding back Bengal from realising its full potential.
Are systemic problems to be blamed for Bengal's apparent lack of silverware?
I don’t think it’s a systemic problem. In my 20-plus years of association with the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), I’ve always believed that we have underperformed. At times, I believe it’s the lack of self-confidence that holds us back. In general, we need to be a little more outgoing. There aren’t too many extroverts in this Bengal side; very rarely will you find the players speaking in public or to the media. That doesn’t necessarily translate into being less confident, but if you put yourself out there, it spurs your onfield performance at times.
If you look at the talent we have had over the years, you would expect more people playing for the country more regularly and for a longer period. As a team, too, rather than winning the Ranji title way back in 1989-90 and in between playing only three finals (1993-94, 2005-06, ’06-07), we should’ve won a few more times, and the quarterfinal and semifinal appearances should have been par for the course and not an achievement.
What has come of Cricket Association of Bengal's (CAB ) 'Vision 2020' programme to groom youngsters?
Under Sourav (Ganguly) — he was joint-secretary then — the CAB put in place an ambitious 'Vision 2020' plan to help young Bengal players get exposure and top-class coaching. They roped in cricketing legends like Muttiah Muralitharan and V. V. S. Laxman for the project. The programme has provided tangible benefits in the past six years. You see players coming through the ranks, especially bowlers. It’s a start...
If you look at the performances since then, Bengal has made it to the Ranji semifinals once (2017-18) and emerged as the under-23 champion in 2019. In between, you had Bengal’s current captain Abhimanyu Easwaran, Ishan Porel and Sudip Chatterjee representing India A as well. There is an upward swing in the results, so obviously it has made a difference.
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That said, it (the system) has to be dynamic; you can’t be rigid. You adjust according to the demands. A lot depends on the coaches and players available. You keep moving with the times and tweaking as and when required.
Is Bengal's talent pool too small at the moment?
The problem is the focus on the Ranji Trophy and the club circuit, and not on the feeder system. The local associations should pay more attention to the under-16s and under-19s. I understand that the Ranji Trophy is the major focus for all state teams, but school, college and university cricket is the pipeline. It is crucial to have a solid cricket structure in place. There are far too many distractions now. When I was playing age-group tournaments, cricket was all we knew. There was only one channel on television, Doordarshan , and that’s about it.
But the under-19s, the college kids, the university kids today have other career options. And the distractions are simply too many now, which is why you have to mentor them and make sure you don’t lose out on talent.
Should the Under-19s be kept away from the IPL (Indian Premier League) and put through the domestic grind first?
I wouldn’t guard the under-19 players against playing in the IPL because you have to give them that exposure. But you have to kind of chaperone them; there has to be a middle path where you allow these youngsters to make mistakes under controlled supervision while ensuring you don’t spoon-feed them. They’ll fall and learn.
In Bengal, there isn’t a lot of cricket. The more you play, the better you get, especially the under-16 and under-19s. A senior player plays pre-season tournaments and then a bulk of the domestic competitions, so they are playing a decent amount of cricket. But I’m more interested in how much game time a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old is getting... right through the six-seven months of the season that we have.
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