Debu Mitra, the Bengali behind Saurashtra's rise

The former Bengal cricketer-turned coach discusses his mixed emotions during the Ranji Trophy 2019-20 final.

Debu Mitra has made players out of Sheldon Jackson, Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara.   -  Special Arrangement

Saurashtra is appearing in its fourth Ranji Trophy final in eight years. It is an inspirational story involving cricketers from the districts; strange that a decade ago, nobody knew them. They are hunting for their maiden title against Bengal and it is a coincidence that the man behind their rise is a Bengali.

Former Bengal cricketer Debu Mitra is in a state of mixed emotions this week. He had coached the Saurashtra cricket team for 10 years. He made players out of Sheldon Jackson, Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara and even took them to the finals in 2012-13. But winning the Ranji Trophy remained a dream.

“Bengal is my home team and Saurashtra is a team that I made. I played a Ranji final for Bengal [in 1968-69] and saw the Saurashtra boys play a final [in 2012-13]. I really don’t know who to support here. I feel for both of them,” the 71-year-old Mitra told Sportstar.

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Apart from the Bengal fast bowlers, Mitra is mighty impressed with veteran Anustup Majumdar and youngster Shahbaz Ahmed. “Bengal is very lucky to reach the final. The kind of games they have won, nobody thought they will win it from there. Anustup and Shahbaz are the boys who took the side to the final. The way Anustup saved the match against Odisha and Karnataka gave them a lot of confidence.”

The poor form of the Bengal top order has been a concern. Asked if Abhimanyu Easwaran is failing due to the pressure of captaincy, Mitra put it straight. “I don’t think he needed to lead the side as such. The bowlers and those two batsmen did the job for him. Nobody is waiting for the other player to score runs or pick wickets. Everybody is contributing. Even the fielding, specially slip catching, has been good this season.”

Pujara, Jaffer the top players

Having spent a long time nurturing India international Pujara in his formative years, Mitra believes he is at par with legendary Mumbai batsman Wasim Jaffer, who retired this week.

“I have regarded two players as greats in my career, Jaffer and Pujara. I have seen all the stalwarts – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid but if Pujara finds his touch, I know that he is going to score a hell lot of runs,” he said.

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Mitra also praised Arpit Vasavada for his mature hundred in the semifinal against Gujarat. “The way Arpit batted in the second innings against Gujarat was mindblowing. He played the entire innings in the V. He did not go for loose shots.”

Saurashtra who?

Once Jadeja went for an Under-19 game wearing the Saurashtra jersey and somebody asked him, “Yeh kaunsi team hai? Kahan se khelte ho?” (What team is this, who do you play for).

“That was Saurashtra then. A few years later, when we were playing Mumbai in the Ranji final. They got Sachin Tendulkar for the game. He hadn’t played too many games that season but he returned to play against us,” said Mitra. That pretty much sums up the story of Saurashtra from Plate to Elite to four-time finalists of the premier red ball tournament in India.

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