New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) Former Bengal cricketer and captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who quit as a West Bengal minister on Tuesday, was known as the crisis man for his state team during his playing days and “someone who would catch bull by the horns”.
Shukla, who represented India in three ODIs and played 137 first-class games mostly for Bengal, was the Youth Affairs and Sports Minister in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s government.
Banerjee has said that he had quit to focus on sports activities although his departure has been deemed as a loss to the Trinamool Congress and has made big news.
“He is very popular here in Bengal. He has made himself popular and carved a niche for himself through stellar performances that always caught the eye. He is known as the crisis man. Whenever you perform in crisis, people know you more. He brought so much glory to the state, also represented KKR, did reasonably well there, he joined politics, became an MLA and now he become a MoS. It all adds up together, so he is popular,” says longtime Ranji Trophy teammate Sourasish Lahiri, who himself has played 100 first-class games and has known Shukla since the age of five.
The two played inter-district cricket together and later became teammates and roommates with Bengal team.
“He is aggressive and energetic, very, very upfront and he always wants to take the bull by the horns,” says Lahiri, a former off-spinner and one of the leading wickettakers for Bengal.
“People like him. He is in that position, has a platform, so obviously people will listen to him. His popularity due to his contribution to Bengal cricket made him a viable candidate for politics.”
Shukla, who made his first class debut in 1997-98 and played his last first-class game in 2015, has been part of memorable finishes for Bengal. Initially a bowling all-rounder, he later started to focus on his batting as injury forced him to give up bowling. His three ODIs all came in 1999.
He starred in the 2012 Vijay Hazare Trophy final, helping Bengal beat Mumbai with a brilliant all-round performance, picking four wickets that included well-set openers Ajinkya Rahane and Wasim Jaffer and then following it up with a 90-ball 106.
Back in 2006, he had almost taken Bengal to a title-clinching first-innings lead over Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy final before his fighting knock of 66, scored mostly in the company with tail-enders, was cut short by an outstanding diving catch by a fielding substitute (Ali Hamid Zaidi) at deep square leg. He was the last man out and Bengal were all out just 14 runs short of UP’s 387 runs, losing the title. Shukla had walked in with Bengal 252/6 and with backs to the wall. When Tiwary was the seventh man dismissed with Bengal 85 adrift, it seemed the innings will fold up soon.
There was another instance where he showed his grit, helping Bengal avoid relegation in Ranji Trophy.
In a 2005 game, a relegation battle that would see the loser drop to Plate Group from Elite Group, Madhya Pradesh had set a first innings total of 392. Bengal found themselves struggling at 106 for five. Sourav Ganguly (121) and Devang Gandhi (77) then resurrected the innings though when the two fell in quick succession, the side was still 95 runs adrift of MP’s total, at 297/7. Shukla made 81 in the company of the tail and took Bengal five clear of MP’s total and helped them avoid relegation on first innings lead.
Shukla was born in Howrah, Bengal and grew up to play his cricket there, making progress from there. He then became an MLA and then a minister from the Howrah constituency.
He is fluent in Bengali, the language spoken by most people in the state and in every way belongs to the state even though he is not ethnically from the state.