Arun Lal has been integral to Bengal cricket since 1981. He was part of the title winning side in 1989-90, was one of the names who backed Sourav Ganguly and now is the man behind the team that has reached Ranji Trophy final after 13 years.
He says, “Team is paramount and everything else is secondary. First you bring your team spirit and then comes your skill, talent, mental ability everything.”
He assures if Bengal can continue with this consistency, can become one of the top teams in the country.
He is Arun Lal, the coach of Bengal cricket team. Since 1981 he has been an important part of Bengal cricket and seen it all. He was part of Bengal’s Ranji winning team in 1989-90. He was one of the names who backed Sourav Ganguly in the initial days. He is the man behind the team today that have reached Ranji Trophy final after 13 years. He does not care about controversies; big names do not matter to him as “Team Bengal” drives things on.
Q. How did you plan the pre-season session? What was the aim?
A. Firstly, I was a mentor in the previous year and closely observing the boys, their mindset, their preparation and realised that we were not the fittest or the strongest team in the country. This was an area we had to address. Secondly, the boys have lots of talent but the teamwork was missing and thirdly mentally we did not believe in ourselves.
So, once I became the coach, I decided that we would be going to build a team instead of 15 individuals playing alongside. Our aim was to become physically strong. I believe a lot in hard work and how it impacts the players mentally. The players must have the mentality to push themselves for that extra effort. It makes them more determined, dedicated and disciplined.
Q. You did invite a lot of criticism for the way you planned training.
A. We did it for two long months. We used to have two hours of physical practice followed by a break and then another two, at times even three hours of net practice. It was very hot during the summers but we did not stop. We even trained during the rain. Nothing could stop us. Lots of people said that it was not the right way as the boys could get tired and jaded during the long Ranji Trophy season. I go by my instincts and understanding and the boys also ended up being very strong and fit. Someone like Ishan Porel is a live example of that, the way he made himself fit was commendable.
Look at our bowlers. Earlier their used to be one bad ball every over. Now thanks to their fitness and focus, even if they bowl ten overs at a go, there is not a single bad delivery. They can bowl as per the field and execute captain’s strategy. All of them had skill, ability and talent because that is essential but this year, we bring more focus, attention to details, discipline, thinking like a team, physical fitness and confidence. That’s what changed the game for us this year.
And I can tell you, we are still not playing with our full potential. Our batting department is still not delivering. The skill is there, we just need to show some more confidence and determination and with that we will become even a stronger force.
Q. What were your key areas of work?
A. See, 70% of the one-day matches are won by the batsmen. On the contrary 70% of the first-class matches are won by the bowlers as you have to bowl your opposition twice. But then unless you have runs on the board, how will your bowlers operate? So, we focused on developing our bowlers who can bat. We identified number seven and eight as a problem area in batting and we worked on that. Now Shahbaz (Ahmed) and Arnab (Nandi) are playing at number seven and eight and they are all-rounders. Earlier it was huge pressure on the batsmen as we had almost a five-man tail but now only two players are our tail. This season this number seven and eight have bailed us out so many times. Shahbaz and Arnab are big advantages this season for Bengal. They have made us a complete unit.
Q. How do the players react?
— CABCricket (@CabCricket) March 6, 2020
A. Everyone is playing a particular role in the team. This year there was huge criticism for Nilkantha Das getting his debut at 31 but he is a great performer. How does it matter how old he is; his performance and effort should be the only factors. Let us not forget Nilkantha, he won us two games. We are also giving a message to Bengal cricket that if you keep performing at club cricket you will be recognised.
I also set my expectation clearly with the senior cricketers. They might have some great performances in the past and we salute them for that but we all have to live in the present. They have to deliver now and every time they go out to field everything is about the team.
Let me give the example of Anustup (Majumdar). He did not miss training for a single day. He is one of the fittest in the team but still he was not selected for first three matches. But his attitude was top- class. No show of displeasure, no discussion on why he was not picked. When he got his chance, he started playing like he never played before. He scored a 99 against Delhi when we were 60/4, then we were 46/5 in the quarter-final against Orissa and he got 157. In the semi-final we were 66/6 and he scored 149 not out. This is how a team’s character is built. When the seniors only play for the team and their ego and achievements have no significance it is fantastic. Everyone in the team is equal, everyone has to perform, everyone has to deliver for the team.
Q. How did you motivate the team for so many comeback wins?
A. We always wanted to fight till the last ball. It is a five-day match and what if you are behind on day one, the match is not over. Yes, you are behind; yes, it is a tough situation but so what? Nothing will be easy in country’s premier tournament. They have made so many comebacks in the second half and you will see this confidence next year. We will do well in all formats and I think we will perform even better in one-day and T20 also. We are more focused on playing the game to the best of our potential and do not focus much on the result.
Q. Who do you think can be the newest stars for Bengal and India?
A. One player I will mention is Ishan Porel. But very close on his heels would be Mukesh Kumar, Akash Deep and Shahbaz. If you discount his age, Anustup is also playing as good as anybody in the country. Even Manoj Tiwary is always a factor. He can be back in fold in IPL and for India. Abhimanyu Easwaran is an India material too. So, I can say this team is full of heroes.
Q. How is Abhimanyu doing as a captain?
A. Superb. The great thing is that he is a young captain. You see, Manoj has made great contribution for Bengal cricket and he was a brilliant leader. But I think like every coach, a captain also has a shelf life of 4-5 years. Now with a young captain, we have fresh ideas, his work ethic is brilliant, he is one of the best fielders in the country. All that put together and the new energy comes with the new captain. And because he is young, he has an open mind. He has got seniors like Manoj and Anustup to help him on the field with suggestions, support and guidance. So, with their support he becomes one of the best Bengal captains within a year.
Q. What is your most memorable moment of this campaign till now?
— CABCricket (@CabCricket) March 5, 2020
A. Well there are so many that it is not easy to pin-point. However, I can mention the semi-final against Karnataka. From 60/6 (67/6) a win by such a big margin (174 runs). And remember, they have a fabulous batting which was just blown away by our bowlers. It was an unbelievable victory. It looked like a mountain to climb but the team did it with perfection.
Q. How can Bengal ensure that this is not a one-off performance?
A. The players will realise that this hard work has paid off. Next year you don’t have to tell them. They will look to do even more. They will want to be fitter, stronger; they will be keen to perform better. They will have bigger goals like playing for India. You will see Bengal performing even better because this team has a good mix of youth and experience.
Q. How difficult is to face Saurashtra at their home ground?
A. It is not going to be easy. But for Bengal nothing has been easy this time. We lost points at home due to rain and then went for away matches to Rajasthan and Punjab. We won them and qualified. So, the team did it hard way and they want to have tough matches; they want to perform in difficult situations. They want to prove that they are as good as anyone in the country. In fact, Saurashtra should be worried that Bengal is coming their way. In fact, I am happy that (Cheteshwar) Pujara will be back. When we can beat Karnataka with KL Rahul then why should we worry?
Q. Any special plan for Pujara or the Rajkot pitch?
A. We will look into some special things but for 90% of the time we will back our strengths. We will focus on our strengths and I know if we can bowl according to our plans, we can bowl out any team in the country twice, any team. Also, we are not looking to make many big changes in the team unless the conditions are drastically different. Otherwise we will mostly go with the same balance in batting and bowling.
Q. Do you think the international level players should play domestic cricket regularly?
A. Absolutely. I think board should make it compulsory for Test cricketers to play Ranji Trophy. They should also look at their 'A' tour schedules and should not have 'A' tours during the Ranji Trophy. Because this is your premier tournament and should make it even better, stronger and competitive.
The workload management area should be looked into. If some India player is injured while playing domestic cricket then someone else should play for India. That way you would also strengthen your team and will create backups. The most important tournament in this country is Ranji Trophy and not IPL.
Q. Will Wriddhiman Saha’s inclusion be a boost for Bengal team?
Mukesh Kumar ran through Karnataka's second innings with a career-best six-wicket haul as Bengal beat their opponents by 174 runs to enter their first Ranji Trophy final in 13 years.#RanjiTrophy #BENvKAR pic.twitter.com/PMfOEQvbS3
— Doordarshan Sports (@ddsportschannel) March 3, 2020
A. Yes it is. But we are winning without him also. He is a big player and he adds to the strength and stability of the team. But then someone else has to sit out who has been doing well throughout the year. There is a huge opportunity cost the teams have to bear at this stage when they want to include someone of his stature. That’s why board should make it mandatory for players to play Ranji when they are available. For example, our fast bowlers and Shahbaz are playing so well even if we have Mohammed Shami for the final, we may request him to sit out! These are the players who have taken this team to the final.
Q. You are part of the Bengal setup since 1981, what are the changes you have observed in all these years?
A. With the advent of one-day and T20s the demands from the players have changed. The season has become too long. The fitness levels have gone through roof. The players today are extremely fit, they have to adapt to multiple formats, they have to invent shots, it has become very tough and competitive compared to 1981.
Q. Do you think Bengal players are now getting more recognition?
A. I think you have to win more to get recognised. We have reached the finals here. In next five to seven years we should reach 2-3 more finals and then this team will be recognised more.
Q. What kind of similarities you find with this team and the Ranji winning team you were part of?
A. I can not think of many similarities. I can tell you that for this team, the team spirit is much stronger. This team is much fitter and also the bowling strength and fielding of this team is much better. May be our batting was stronger and that is one area where this team needs to buck up. Otherwise, I think this is a much better team.
Q. How do you rate your journey from Ranji winning team to a manager of Ranji finalist team?
A. I can not tell you how emotional this journey is for me. I am like a father now. If a son does well it is even happier for the father than what he personally did. So, it will be much bigger achievement for me if this team can win the Ranji Trophy compared to my win as a player. I value this journey of mine much more than my journey that season as a player.
Q. How was the support system for this campaign?
A. Absolutely superb. We have one of the best support staff units. The work ethics of Sanjib Das, the trainer, and Usman, the physio, is wonderful. The bowling coach (Ranadeb Bose) is brilliant. Let’s not forget Joydeep Mukherjee too, who is managing all the nitty-gritties for this team timely and most efficiently. He has not got his due and he is really underrated. I want to highlight his invaluable contribution for the team.
Q. How is the support from Sourav Ganguly and CAB?
We r not a TEAM because we work together. We r a TEAM because we Respect, Trust and Care for each other 👍 Outstanding display of team effort by Us @CabCricket this season so far. Delighted 2 reach the finals of d Ranji trophy 🏆 One more hurdle 2 bring d Cup back 2 city of Joy👍 pic.twitter.com/WTbcWyKekI
— MANOJ TIWARY (@tiwarymanoj) March 3, 2020
A. They are fabulous. They are very happy and CAB has been very supportive. The selectors were supportive and so was the administration. Sourav provided a few suggestions here and there but never tried to force anything. I am grateful to them for giving me the independence to work in my own way.
Q. How do you think Sourav’s Vision 2020 plan is giving results?
A. It is a good approach and things are in place. Maybe we need to look at few things in local club cricket but mostly it is giving us good results. Sourav is a true visionary. It is a great coincidence that we are playing the 2020 final! I just wish he might have called this Vision 2018 and we could have won two years back (laughs).
Q. A very personal question at the end. How has your battle with cancer changed your life and views?
A. Everyday is a learning for human being. You are not the same person today compared to yesterday. When this kind of thing happens you definitely go through changes. You have to go through an ordeal, you are stronger now, you see life differently. I think I am much stronger both mentally and physically. I am very content with myself and as long as God is with me, I have no complaint.
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