Calcutta: A new season always brings in fresh hope and expectations accompanied by the challenges that come along the way.
For Bengal, who open their Ranji Trophy campaign against defending champions Rajasthan at the Eden on Friday, this season will not only be about showcasing individual brilliance but also about performing as a unit. Poor team performance has been Bengal's bane in the last couple of seasons and if they can perform to their potential, the current crop have it in them to progress in the knockout phase.
In Woorkeri Raman's words, this is the "team for the future". The coach's words cannot be shrugged off since he knows what it takes to build a team and groom youngsters. Bengal isn't shorn of riches when it comes to individual performances.
If captain Manoj Tiwary and Ashok Dinda have been in the reckoning for a Test berth, Wriddhiman Saha hasn't disappointed in the limited opportunities. There's also Anustup Majumdar, who has been on the A tour to New Zealand, and Iresh Saxena, who did exceptionally well in East Zone's Duleep Trophy triumph.
Not to forget Mohammed Shami Ahmed, who has been sidelined because of an injury, and Laxmi Ratan Shukla. Ironically, team work has been the secret of Rajasthan's triumph over the last two seasons. "Our X-factor has been the team work… We hope to continue in the same vein," said captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar.
Injuries to their openers, though, have kept the Bengal thinktank worried. Parthasarathi Bhattacharjee has been ruled out with a hairline fracture on his right middle finger, suffered during practice on Thursday. He will be sidelined for two weeks.
Rohan Banerjee, the other first-choice opener, also suffered an injury and is doubtful. If Rohan is also ruled out, Subhamoy Das and Jayojit Basu will open the innings.
The trio of Tiwary, Wriddhiman and Dinda arrived in the city late on Thursday after fulfilling their commitments in the India A-England practice match in Mumbai.
"Since Manoj and Dinda have been performing so well, they will be eager to show their class ahead of the team selection for the first Test on Monday," hoped Raman.
National selector (East Zone) Syed Saba Karim will be present at the Eden and should be enough motivation for the players to perform.
Living up to the expectations will be Rajasthan's biggest task. Aakash Chopra has left for Himachal Pradesh, but the likes of Robin Bist and Vineet Saxena ' the top-two run-scorers in the Ranji Trophy last season with 1034 and 897, respectively ' will be keen to continue with their run scoring spree.
In keeping with the technical committee's recommendations, the wicket has a fair sprinkling of grass. Curator Prabir Mukherjee is hopeful of the wicket producing appreciable bounce but the grass is likely to encourage Rajasthan to include three seamers in their line-up.
Pankaj Singh, their most successful medium pacer last season with 34 wickets, is likely to be assisted by Rituraj Singh. They will, however, miss Sumit Mathur.
Bengal are still undecided on including a third seamer. Sourav Sarkar is set to partner Dinda, but whether Veer Pratap Singh gets a chance remains to be seen. If the youngster isn't included, Arnab Nandy will partner Iresh.
Bengal (likely): Jayojit Basu, Rohan Banerjee/ Subhamoy Das, Manoj Tiwary, Writam Porel, Anustup Majumdar, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Wriddhiman Saha, Iresh Saxena, Ashok Dinda, Sourav Sarkar, Veer Pratap Singh/ Arnab Nandy.
Rajasthan (from): Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Gajendra Singh, Robin Bist, Aniket Choudhary, Vaibhav Deshpande, Madhur Khatri, Ankit Lamba, Manjeet Singh, Ashok Menaria, Pankaj Singh, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Puneet Yadav, Vineet Saxena, Rituraj Singh, Dishant Yagnik.
Umpires: K. Hariharan, Nikhil Patwardhan. TV: K. Anantapadmanavan.
Match Referee: B. Kalyan Sundaraman.
Match starts: 9 am.