At Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium today, I was quite unexpectedly the ‘Indian cricket journalist from Bengal’. Even during the heady days of Sourav (Bangla’s Gaurav, pride) Ganguly, being a cricket journalist from Kolkata largely meant playing country cousins to our colleagues from Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai or Delhi.
Indeed, Kolkata’s, or Bengal’s, stories about cricket revolve around a handful of heroes and would-be heroes from the past. For every Pankaj Roy or Sourav Ganguly, there is a Barun Burman or a Sambaran Banerjee or a Shute Banerjee. All of them apparently the “best” in the business in their prime, but wasted because of “politics”, as every other middle-aged Bengali man will tell you while sipping his morning cup of tea over a copy of the Ananda Bazar Patrika.
Until Ganguly showed up, a discussion on Bengal cricket with a true-blue Kolkatan would quickly turn to talk of Eden Gardens – always a safer subject, assured of almost universal appreciation. Then someone would suddenly remember the 1996 World Cup semifinal – usually the cue to start talking football.
Anyway, to cut to the chase: as things stand, it looks likely that, in a few years, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha and Ashok Dinda could avoid making that Gallery of Bengal’s Almost Legends.
Yes, it’s true that, right now, the three of them hover around the fringes of the Indian team – walking in and out quite frequently. But as I was reporting on an important cricket match featuring a well-chosen squad with three players from Bengal, I couldn’t help but wonder if Kolkata could, one day, be the new Bangalore or Mumbai.
Since Arun Lal went away and Ganguly took over, the other Bengal cricketers in the Indian team have been Deep Dasgupta, Syed Saba Karim, Rohan Gavaskar, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Shib Sankar Paul and Ranadeb Bose. Am I missing someone? I am fairly certain that not more than two of them were in the same pool of, say, 30 at the same time. And none of them stayed with the Indian team long enough anyway.
As it is, the three cricketers in question – who are all in the India A playing XI against England – are all very good, and have come together at a time when there might just be a couple of slots opening up in the Indian team.
Tiwary has been around the fringes for a while and has become a regular member of the Indian limited-overs squads, if not always the playing XIs. A spot in the Test squad might be some distance away, but doesn’t look unattainable.
Saha has emerged as second only to Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the wicketkeeping charts. He might never be as good as Dhoni with the bat in the shorter formats, but is a gritty customer in first-class games with a penchant for hanging around for long periods. And he is, usually, quite competent behind the stumps.
And Dinda is, well, a bit ‘jumpy’, isn’t he? He will be ribbed about that leap before delivery even if he picks ten wickets in an innings, but once he is finished with the leap, he isn’t too bad. Probably not good enough to be one of India’s three best fast bowlers – not if all of them are fit. But they usually are not.
These are all moderately talented, extremely committed and very driven cricketers. Perhaps they may not, all three of them, have long, successful careers with the Indian team, but they will do enough to add cheer to the ABP–Telegraph crowd and their morning cuppa. And allow some of us to indulge in some well-meaning and light-hearted parochialism.