In the Nawazuddin Siddiqui -starrer movie Manjhi – The Mountain Man, there’s a famous dialogue from the protagonist “jab tak todenge nahi tab tak chorenge nahi (Will not stop until I break this).” It took Dashrat Manjhi (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) 22 years to carve a path through a mountain with a chisel and a hammer.
Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary has a similar life story. He is into his 19th year in first-class cricket but has failed to win the Ranji Trophy. He has come close thrice — 2005-06, 2006-07, 2019-20 — and ended up as as runners-up all three times, losing to Uttar Pradesh first, then Mumbai and most recently against Saurashtra, the side Bengal will take on from Thursday at the Eden Gardens.
Tiwary, who is also the state sports minister in the Bengal government, says he has continued playing just to win the Ranji Trophy.
“I kept on playing because I wanted to win the Ranji Trophy. I want to be called as Ranji’s champion. I have been part of three finals, came close to winning it a couple of times,” Tiwary told The Indian Express on the eve of the Ranji Trophy final
The 37-year-old, who had quit captaincy ahead of 2019-20 season and joined politics, was re-appointed Bengal skipper earlier this season.
“Kuch feel nahi ho raha ( I am not feeling any emotions),” he laughed.
“Only thing which is new for me this season is that I am playing the final as a captain. When you grow old, you tend to become more content. For someone like me who has gone through so much because of aggression and outbursts in the situation where it was not required. It is not normal, but then you learn from your past experience. I am more calmer now or you can say I am content with my life. I am just leading the team in a way I know the best,” he said.
This will be Bengal’s 15th appearance in the Ranji final. Only one team has got to the final more times: Mumbai have done it 47 times. Delhi have also appeared in the finals on 15 occasions. However, Bengal have won the final only twice, ending up as runners-up on 12 other occasions
“We have a great opportunity because we are playing in home conditions. Our pacers have done really well throughout the season and especially at Eden Gardens. And at Eden, the surface assists fast bowlers,” he said.
“Preparation has been really good. A lot of effort has gone to the skills. Everybody has given their heart and soul till now. It’s about executing the plans right from tomorrow’s morning session whether we bat or bowl,” he added.
The final will once again be a repeat of the 2019-20 title decider, and in front of home fans, Bengal will aim to avenge the loss to Saurashtra a couple of years ago.
Just 1⃣ sleep away from the #RanjiTrophy summit clash! ⏳
Bengal or Saurashtra – which team will come out on top? 🤔@CabCricket | @saucricket | #BENvSAU | #Final | @mastercardindia pic.twitter.com/WOmBJ2ZjPR
— BCCI Domestic (@BCCIdomestic) February 15, 2023
“This won’t be a first-innings lead kind of surface. As far as my analysis goes, I have seen the Saurashtra team doing well on a wicket where there is not much movement and it is slow in nature and we are not going to provide that sort of a pitch. But Saurashtra has been consistent for the past five six years; it will be a good final,” he said.
Bengal with the likes of Laxmi Ratan Shukla (current coach), Saurasish Lahiri (assistant coach), Shib Sankar Paul (bowling coach), Deep Dasgupta, and Manoj Tiwary are a force to reckon with in the mid 2000s and has played back-to-back finals as well.
All of them knew the angst of not winning the biggest domestic trophy of the land. Shukla chooses to be philosophical about it now.
“You win some, you lose some and my biggest takeaway from those finals against UP and Mumbai was to just keep fighting. Obviously, our generation didn’t win the Ranji Trophy but we won Vijay Hazare Trophy, Syed Mushtaq Ali, and we were a force in domestic cricket. I don’t have any regrets, maybe we were not supposed to win; there is no point looking into the past now,” Shukla said.
Former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta still rues the missed chance
“One thing that you always want when you start playing cricket is to win the Ranji Trophy. And being there back-to-back for two years and missing out was a little bit of heartbreak,” said the 45-year-old Dasgupta, who played eight Tests and five ODIs for India.
The last time Bengal won the Ranji Trophy was against Delhi. The former India captain Sourav Ganguly had made his first-class debut in that Ranji final. Arun Lal was their most successful batsman in that season (645 runs in eight innings at an average of 107.50). Before that, one has to rewind all the way back to the pre-independent era when Bengal won their first Ranji title in 1938-39.
Arun Lal, the former Bengal coach, feels the Manoj Tiwary-led team is one of the top five sides in the country and in the coming years, they are going to dominate domestic cricket in all formats.
“We have been unlucky. We lost Syed Mushtaq Ali final last year on the final ball of the match. We reached the Ranji Trophy final in 2020. We are there and in the next five years, we will win all the three trophies,” said Lal.
Lal heaped praise on Bengal No 3 Sudip Gharami, who has scored 789 runs in the season and Akash Deep, Bengal’s highest wicket-taker in the ongoing Ranji Trophy with 37 scalps as find of the seasons.
“Gharami has stepped up this year. He has found his feet this year. He has been consistent. He is holding the batting together with Anustup and Abhimanyu Easwaran.
“This season Akash Deep has taken two steps forward as a bowler. He has got pace and bounce but would end up slipping a couple of looseners. But now he is not giving away those freebies. He has gained in maturity and experience,” said Lal.
Unadkat’s availability a boost for Saurashtra
Skipper Jaydev Unadkat’s availability is a boost to Saurashtra’s prospects in the final, as they aim for their second title after winning their first in the 2019-20 season. Though he has played just three matches this Ranji Trophy season, Unadkat led the side in all those fixtures, taking 17 wickets at an average of 13.64.
“I will rate the pitch as a sporting one. We will witness a good game of cricket. The bowlers and batsmen will both get assistance from the pitch. We have a great group of players and all are waiting for this moment. We will give our best to become champions again. We are a formidable force now in the domestic circuit,” Unadkat said.
“Bengal bowlers have done really well this season but I think it will be an even contest. There will be no favourites. The team who wins more sessions will be victorious,” he added.
Unadkat was part of India’s Test squad for the first two Tests of the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy against Australia but was released by the team management to play in the final. Unadkat did not play any of the knockouts for Saurashtra, who were led by Arpit Vasavada in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.