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Wriddhiman Saha received his first international Man-of-the-Match award at Eden Gardens AFP

Dilip Doshi and Arun Lal were all Bengal could brag about in the era between Pankaj Roy and Sourav Ganguly. A crafty spinner, a PG Wodehouse reader, and a successful businessman, Doshi was not the kind of man Bengal worshipped. They did celebrate Arun Lal, but a lot of that had to do with their second Ranji Trophy title in 1989-90. They went overboard with their Lal Salaam the standard slogan for the then-ruling Communist Party when Arun Lal strode out. But like Doshi, Arun Lal, too, was an outsider not a Bengali: he was an import . Bengal had accepted Arun Lal more for lack of options than by choice, much like Mohammed Shami among contemporaries.

Bengal did have a hero in Pankaj Roy, but a general apathy towards history meant that their knowledge on one of India s grittiest men in the 1950s was restricted to a world-record stand with Vinoo Mankad. Some were probably aware of the fact that Roy had led India once in that turbulent phase of the late 1950s, but that was about it. There were two other Test cricketers in that family Ambar, the lazy yet flamboyant nephew, and Pranab, the opener who grew up to be a technically correct batsman in the footsteps of his father.

Before Roy there was Probir Sen, India s first great wicketkeeper. In her first 12 Tests India had fielded 6 different glovemen. Sen played 14, which was telling. But then, Sen is remembered by Bengal as the man who had once stumped Don Bradman: nothing more, nothing less. It was as if there was nothing in that illustrious career beyond that solitary stumping.

In short, Bengal remembered the pre-Sourav Ganguly era as one that involved a stumping, a world-record partnership, and a Ranji Trophy. They have always had a perpetual complaint about injustice dished out to them, but barring the keenest students of history, few are actually able to cite events. Somewhat curiously, they cite the example of Shute Banerjee as a victim of injustice dished out to Bengal: a little looking-up would have told that Banerjee had played 24 matches for Bihar and 5 for Bengal.

But we are digressing. In short, Bengal cricket never had an iconic character from the modern era till Ganguly came along. Ganguly was followed keenly by the Bengal fraternity on that ill-fated Australia tour of 1991-92. There was no social media. Satellite television was still in its nascent stages in the country. Fans of Bengal cricket had to remain content with a single failure on field and numerous rumours regarding attitude off it. Ganguly was forgotten for four years.

By the time Ganguly made a comeback with a hundred at Lord s on Test debut, no less satellite television had arrived in India. As a commodity it was still unexplored by the mass, but those who saw the innings told others, and news spread through word of mouth.

Ganguly opened batting in limited-overs cricket. Sachin Tendulkar got him to open batting in ODIs. Ganguly and Tendulkar emerged as the greatest opening pair. At times Ganguly outdid the great man with his batting prowess. Ganguly ruffled Pakistan single-handedly, first at Toronto, then at Karachi, then in Dhaka, in the same season. For the first time in history Bengal cricket had a hero who could be called world-class.

There were other fleeting appearances in the 1990s. Saradindu Mukherjee had taken a hat-trick on First-Class debut, in the semi-final of Bengal s victorious campaign. He played 3 ODIs in a forgotten edition of Asia Cup. Utpal Chatterjee, perhaps the greatest bowler in the history of Bengal, appeared and disappeared without anyone caring.

There was Saba Karim, one of the also-rans for the gloveman s slot in the era between Nayan Mongia and MS Dhoni, whose career ended after an on-field eye injury. Laxmi Ratan Shukla s international career ended in his teens after Ashish Nehra was drafted in. And there was Devang Gandhi, all at sea in Australia but a decent batsman at domestic level.

Then Ganguly was appointed India captain, sending Bengal into spasms of excitement they have never experienced before. India pulled off a stunning win over Australia at home. Deep Dasgupta and ( import alert) Rohan Gavaskar also made international appearances.

For a few years it seemed Bengal cricket had taken a new turn with Ganguly. The lavish words of praise were expected, but things reached a new level altogether when Ganguly was dropped. They burned effigies of Greg Chappell and lashed out against Rahul Dravid (why?).

When Eden Gardens hosted an ODI soon afterwards, sure enough, India were dished out a green strip on which South Africans made merry and the partisan crowd cheered every Indian wicket, erupting when Dravid s off-stump was uprooted by Charl Langeveldt in-swinger. As India slumped to a humiliating defeat, the giant scorecard kept updating the cheering crowd with updates of Ganguly s performances in a Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra.

For a while it seemed Bengal had, for once, taken to cricket. Ganguly roared back into the side with batting performances of a quality he had never displayed till 2005. The publicity provided by the local media to the comeback was over-the-top, but then, creating and recreating a hero should ideally have inspired a new generation.

Ganguly himself carried the aura of a leader Bengal have never witnessed in the television era. Whether that has to do with the charisma of the man or the lack of leadership qualities among his contemporaries is debatable, but it remains a fact.

Bengal had never produced quality cricketers in a bunch. That is a curious fact in itself, for there was no shortage of interest. Eden Gardens used to remain packed during Test matches despite there not being a single player from Bengal in the Indian side.

For a state that has never been short on passion, the failure of Bengal to produce world-class cricketers on a consistent basis has remained baffling. It could have had to do with a shortage of talent; or weather; or attitude; or all three; something else. That is something better left to sports scientists. What we do know, however, is there has been a dearth over time.

But with Ganguly things began to move. I have already mentioned Dasgupta and Gavaskar. Ranadeb Bose made a full tour of England without playing a match. Manoj Tiwary and Ashok Dinda were picked. In other words, there were more Bengal players in the Indian team than in, say, the 1980s.

There was certainly a surge. Or was there?

Glamorous glovemen

The best wicketkeepers, like the best umpires, have always remained invisible on the ground, they say. Contrary to popular beliefs, that has not been the case with Indian glovemen.

Sen was feisty in his interviews with Australian media. It would be an understatement to call Madhav Mantri a crucial cog of Bombay cricket: for decades he was Bombay cricket. Memories of Budhi Kunderan s ebullience still makes old-timers go misty-eyed. Farokh Engineer was glamorous enough to become a Brylcreem Boy. Syed Kirmani was agile, gutsy, and armed with a perpetual smile. Kiran More was incorrigibly mischievous to the extent that he managed to get under Javed Miandad s skin. Nayan Mongia could bring a corpse to life with his volleys of shabash-shahash-shabash or aai ga.

In other words, wicketkeepers were always there in the picture. While mothers wanted to stuff little Parthiv Patel with shrikhand, Dinesh Karthik certainly had his fans, especially among the fairer sex. And towering above them all was MS Dhoni, attaining a stature in Indian cricket matched by few, and certainly not by a wicketkeeper.

Just like Ganguly, Dhoni has his devoted set of followers. Do note how I used the present tense: it is incredible how fans of both men have remained loyal to their demigods well past their primes and retirements.

But this piece is not about Dhoni or Ganguly. This is about Wriddhiman Saha, who could have won as much adulation for being the new hero behind the stumps or the new hero for Bengal. But before turning to Saha, it is time to revisit Bengal cricket in the post-Ganguly era.

The undeserving

As mentioned, Bengal had several stars even when Ganguly was active in IPL. Saha had already earned a Test cap by then, albeit for being in the right place at the right time, playing as a specialist batsman.

The focus remained on Ganguly as he moved to Pune Warriors India, but Saha had already played his second Test by then. Nobody seemed to care about that unassuming man who had stood tall in ruins while batting and had not really done anything wrong while keeping wickets.

With Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, and Sachin Tendulkar bowing out one after the other, India went through a rebuilding phase. Dhoni himself quit Test cricket a year after Tendulkar. The time was ripe for Saha to emerge as the new star for Bengal.

Saha found support in his new captain. Virat Kohli has been clear in his unequivocal support for Saha. There was no doubt in his mind that Saha was the best wicketkeeper in India. Quiet yet eager, Saha is the fulcrum of India s fiery group of close-in fielders, pulling off a spectacular catch or effecting a quick stumping every now and then.

With bat he is gutsy with a steadily rising batting average (from 17 a year back to 31 today); not only that, he can play those big shots when needed: is he not, after all, the only one to score a hundred in an IPL final?

Back in Bengal, unfortunately, no one cares. Despite his adventures Saha never seems to leave his mark among fans. If you do not believe me, search Facebook groups for Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni; you will be astonished at the imaginative, often over-the-top, skills of Indians on social media. Then do the same for Wriddhiman Saha.

Bengal cricket was never short on passion. They had even found their first hero in Ganguly. The emergence of Saha should have given them a second. Unfortunately, even cruelly, as the world keeps discussing whether Saha is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world ahead of Sarfraz Ahmed and BJ Watling, Bengal remains blissfully unaware.

They were fixed on Ganguly in the mid-2000s. It might come across as bizarre to outsiders, but Bengalis have always been hero-worshippers. Unfortunately, they also seem to remain stuck on their heroes for what seems to be an eternity.

It probably explains why Eden Gardens erupted when the camera panned on to Ganguly and he waved back. It also explains why there was merely a token appreciation for Saha despite his brilliance.

Saha had just come off his second unbeaten fifty of the Test. In the first innings he had helped India reach 316 from 200 for 6; in the second, 263 from 106 for 6. There was applause but not much when he walked off the ground. Not that he cared, for he had bigger tasks at hand.

Three balls into the fourth innings Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled one on leg. Tom Latham tried to flick and missed. Saha flung himself full-length, gathering it cleanly and coming up without a fuss. The huge ground, boasting merely a fifth of its capacity, remained quiet.

It was not the first time Saha had gone unnoticed, and it would certainly not be the last time. He was neat behind the stumps throughout the day. Despite the uneven bounce Saha did not concede a single bye in the fourth innings.

As for his batting, his second suit, he holds the highest batting average among Indians this year without anyone really making a fuss about it. His average is not merely a product of not outs: only Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli have scored more runs than him this year. He is probably India s best contemporary batsman against short-pitched bowling on bouncy pitches. He can plan and pace his innings beautifully.

There is no doubting the class of Saha on either side of the stumps. What is baffling, however, is the reluctance of the men from his state to accept the fact. If Ganguly was the first prominent man to put Bengal cricket on the international map, Saha is definitely the second. If Dhoni was good enough to play as a batsman alone, so can Saha. Unfortunately, that is a fact fans of Indian cricket refuse to acknowledge.

In an ideal world Saha would have had a fan base comparable to that of both men, for he checks both boxes. One may argue that Ganguly and Dhoni had both led their country. While that is true, it cannot be denied that both men had their share of admiration way before their days at the helm.

Perhaps it has to do with Saha s quiet demeanour. Or perhaps some quirk of fan psychology I am unable to comprehend. But the fact remains that Saha has been mysteriously ignored by the state he hails from despite being acknowledged by the who s who of international cricket.

Let me answer the question I had left unanswered earlier. No, Ganguly did not bring a surge in Bengal cricket. An icon in every sense of the word, Ganguly gave Bengal a hero, nothing more, nothing less. And Bengal have refused to move on.

Ignore what the pundits say. Instead, keep an eye on social media and overhear the discussion in public transport, and you will agree.

It is not Ganguly s fault that Bengal cannot look beyond him to celebrate their new hero. It is not his fault if the stands remain empty even when Saha gets India closer to that coveted No. 1 spot in ICC Test rankings with his brilliance on either side of the stumps.

It is certainly no one s fault that Bengal celebrates its performers only if they ooze of glitz and glamour. Success is essential, but it is not the only criterion. Bengal can back its stars to the hilt, but will not stretch out for anyone who stops even marginally short of stardom. It does not acknowledge quality that comes without proper packaging.

They do not accept a star in this part of the world unless he turns up in shining armour. They do not accept him based on achievements. Saha, with a face that gives the impression that he has not laughed in the past decade, is too serious and unglamorous for all that.

They have done little to deserve him and his stunning feats, the cricket fans of Bengal. They do not seem to care about remarkable success story of the Siliguri boy who had made it to Bengal only after Dasgupta had joined ICL and responded with a hundred on Ranji debut, who had helped win a Test in West Indies, who has shown tremendous dexterity while keeping wickets to spin and agility to pace in recent past as well as bailed in India s, who is slowly emerging as India s most valuable man in whites.

No, Bengal cricket does not deserve a hero like Saha. They need to acknowledge and appreciate quality to get there.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)