KOLKATA: Much has changed for Bengal cricket since the team made the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy in the last domestic season. The team has got a new support staff with Laxmi Ratan Shukla taking over as the coach of the side replacing Arun Lal while former Bengal coach WV Raman was named the batting consultant. At the same time Bengal will be without three old warhorses for the first time in many years. While Wriddhiman Saha and Sudip Chatterjee have shifted base to Tripura, wicketkeeper-batter Shreevats Goswami will be playing for Mizoram this season.
With veteran Manoj Tiwary and Anushtup Majumder opting out of the shortest format, Bengal will be low on experience as they begin their domestic campaign in the Syed Mushtaq Ali (T20) Trophy in Lucknow on Tuesday. However, with the emergence of a number of new faces, the team will bank on youth and energy when they face Jharkhand in the opening match.
The team will also miss all-rounders Shahbaaz Ahmed and pacer Mukesh Kumar on Tuesday as both the players will be with the national team for the last One-Day International against South Africa, also to be played on Tuesday. However, the duo is expected to join Bengal's campaign from their next match onwards. In Shahbaaz's absence, India U-19 World Cup winning wicketkeepr-batter player Abhishek Porel might have to play the finisher's role.
It will be interesting to see how the Bengal thinktank utilises the tactical substitute which will be introduced for the first time in domestic cricket this time. Along with the starting XI, teams now will name four substitutes at the time of toss and use one of them during the match. Such a substitute, if used judiciously, can change the outcome of a game.
The Abhimanyu Easwaran-led side will be starting on a high after creating a unique record during their Ranji Trophy quarter-final match against Jharkhand when they became the first team of which the top-nine batters scored at least fifty runs in a first-class innings.
Placed in Group E of the competition, Bengal will next be up against Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Chhattisgarh and Chandigarh. A top of the group finish will see Bengal make the quarters while they will have to play the pre-quarters if they end up as the second-best side of their group. The knockout ties scheduled in Kolkata should act as an added incentive for Bengal to make the grade.
The team had a good pre-season playing some practice matches and have reached Lucknow early to get used to the conditions. It's time to get rolling now.