Kolkata, Nov 23 (IANS) Competitive cricket returns to revered Eden Gardens here on Tuesday after more than eight months, due to Covid-induced lockdown, with a Mohun Bagan-Calcutta Customs Club encounter of the first Bengal T20 Challenge.
The last competitive match played at the ground was a Ranji Trophy semi-final match between Bengal and Karnataka, from February 29 to March 3, before Coronavirus pandemic struck and the country went into a lockdown. Bengal won that game by 174 runs, but lost the final to Saurashtra on the basis of first-innings lead.
Six of the top club teams will compete in the bio-bubble ecosystem, and 30 matches will be played in a league phase over 13 days. Double headers will be played almost daily, starting at 4pm and 8pm, except on Thursday when the games will commence at 10 am and 2 pm.
Besides, triple headers will be played November 28 and Dec 6, with the first starting at 12 noon, followed by matches at 4pm and 8 pm. The triple-header days will also feature the maidan derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, beginning at 4 pm on both days.
The semi-final matches will take place on December 8 and the final on December 9. There are no cash prizes on offer.
Ample security measures will be in place, besides the Covid protocols, to ensure complete safety of the stakeholders of the tournament.
“A series of Covid tests were done to prune out anyone positive. Unfortunately, six people, including five of our players, tested positive. The rest are okay and have been put inside the bio-bubble,” said Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president Avishek Dalmiya.
“This tournament is an opportunity for youngsters to showcase their talent while it’s the right meet for the senior pros to show they are still the ones to beat. Psychologically also, it is playing a positive impact on the players who have been confined to their houses for the last eight months,” he said
The five players who have returned positive results during the mandatory testing and have been ruled out are: Abhimanyu Easwaran and Abhishek Raman (both East Bengal), Writtick Chatterjee (Mohun Bagan), Dip Chatterjee (Customs), and Roshan Singh (Tapan Memorial).
CAB secretary Snehasish Ganguly said a wide pool of players, including those from the districts, will be on display.
“This meet is a huge morale booster for the players because for them cricket is their life and being away from the ground for so long was truly demoralising for them. We have taken all measures possible to ensure that the tournament completes smoothly,” he said.
The teams are buoyant about the prospects. Mohun Bagan are a confident lot with a good mix of players suited for the shortest format of the game.
“We have Akash Deep and Sayan Ghosh who attended this year’s IPL camps and that has obviously boosted their confidence and experience. Our new captain, Anustup Majumder, has been phenomenal with the bat last season. We also have experienced campaigners like Manoj Tiwary and Debabrata Das. Then there are Prince Yadav, Ankur Pal and Anurag Tiwary to watch out for,” said Bagan coach Sanjib Goyal.
East Bengal lost Easwaran and Raman due to covid, but even in their absence they promise a formidable challenge.
Coach Shibsagar Singh feels everyone has to contribute for a team to be successful.
“We have a good mix of senior experienced players and young players. Among the young players, Sujit Kumar Yadav and Akash Pandey will be a handful along with experienced players like Arnab Nandi, B Amit, Mukesh Kumar and Kanishk Seth,” he said.
Kalighat coach Satinder Singh said: “The team is very disciplined and prepared for the tournament. With Subham Chatterjee, Sudip Chatterjee, Pradipta Pramanik, Prinan Dutta, Aamir Gani, and Jayojit Basu, we have a very good mixture of experience and youth and that is the key for us.”
For Customs coach Nilambar Saha, having youngsters in the team is a plus.
“I believe Customs is also the best fielding side with Shreyan Chakraborty, Sumanta Gupta and Prosenjit Das, who are excellent fielders as well. It is a very big opportunity for them and I believe it will give many talented players a boost in their career. It will be very competitive as all the teams are very balanced,” he said.
Town Club boast some big hitters, and their coach Kanchan Maity feels they have a fair chance of making an impression.
“We have some big hitters and quality bowlers. Having the likes of Ananta Saha, Aritra Chatterjee, Pankaj Shaw and Ayan Bhattacharjee and youngsters like Kazi Junaid Saifi, Sudip Gharami and Golam Mustafa makes us a good mixture of experience and youth,” he said.
Tapan Memorial coach Abhishek Barman feels there is no pressure on his team and that they could spring a surprise or two.
“Shahbaz Ahamad, who has just returned from IPL, as a captain gives us a boost. We are a balanced side with good middle order batters and quality all-rounders. Having good all-rounders always benefits a team and Sumit Mohanta, Gaurav Chauhan will strengthen us in that department. Shakir Habib Gandhi, Debapratim Halder, Abhishek Porel and Sourav Chanda will be the ones to look out for. We will put up a stiff challenge to our opposition,” he said.