Bengal captain Abhimanyu Easwaran, former India batsman Manoj Tiwary, and up-and-coming allrounder Shahbaz Ahmed will lead three of the six teams at the inaugural chapter of the Bengal T20 Challenge, to be played at Eden Gardens in “a bio-bubble eco-system” from November 24.
Each of the teams (all clubs) – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Tapan Memorial, Town, Kalighat and Customs – have 15 players in their ranks; seven of these were retained by the teams from their existing squads, and eight were picked up at a draft, with four more players named as stand-bys. There will be a total of 33 games in the tournament, with each team playing the others twice, followed by the semi-finals and the final, with a “majority” of them under lights. The schedule is expected on Saturday.
“Majority of the matches will be played under the floodlights at Eden Gardens. All the players, coaches and match officials will continue to remain in the bio bubble during the entire course of the tournament,” Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president Avishek Dalmiya said after the draft, conducted on Tuesday at a Kolkata hotel. “The thought process behind this tournament is to nurture the talents of the state of West Bengal and also enable this competition to act as a talent feeder to the various age groups representing the association.”
On the absence of corporate-owned teams, and the decision to field prominent cricket clubs of the region, Dalmiya said, “This tournament is a CAB property and it will continue to remain the same without franchises. We are trying to ensure all the top brands are associated, top players are associated. We took suggestions from our think tank, the Bengal support staff and the coaches.”
“By the time we start the season, a couple of board tournaments are over and for the selection process we have to look into last year’s performance. I believe you can do a great service to Bengal cricket if you can dislodge the entrenched players, they are the ones under pressure not the youngsters”
Similar T20 tournaments have been organised by some of the state cricket associations around the country over the past few years – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra, Jharkhand, Andhra, Mumbai, for example – and, like them, the CAB is also hoping to make the competition an annual affair. This year, though, the Covid-19 situation has made things slightly more complex that it would be otherwise.
“These are very difficult times and to make this tournament successful, we must adhere to the (Covid-19) guidelines and protocols,” Dalmiya said. “There will be health officers who will be ensuring that the bio-bubble norms are followed and if anyone’s out of the bio-bubble, he’s out of the tournament.”
For the duration of the tournament, expected to be around three weeks, all the players, support staff, and everyone else associated with the tournament will be stay in a city hotel and not interact with anyone from outside the “safety zone”.
The timing of the tournament is a good one from the point of view of Bengal-based cricketers, as it will end before the BCCI’s domestic season kicks off – on January 1, according to board president Sourav Ganguly.
“If one can perform here, he can open the gates to greater opportunities. I have been telling the marquee players that this is a godsent opportunity; this has never happened to any of the Bengal players before. By the time we start the season, a couple of board tournaments are over and for the selection process we have to look into last year’s performance,” Arun Lal, the state team coach, was quoted as saying on the CAB’s Facebook page. “I believe you can do a great service to Bengal cricket if you can dislodge the entrenched players, they are the ones under pressure not the youngsters. This is a great opportunity for the youngsters and the players who are forgotten.”
While Mohammed Shami and Wriddhiman Saha, senior Bengal players, are in Australia with the Indian side and Ishan Porel, the young quick, has also travelled with the team as a net bowler, there is no dearth of prominent players in the teams. Apart from Abhimanyu, Tiwary and Ahmed, there are the likes of Shreevats Goswami, Abhishek Raman, Mukesh Kumar, Anustup Majumdar, Debabrata Das, Akash Deep, Sudip Chatterjee and Aamir Gani scattered among the six teams.