Bengal won their first Ranji Trophy title in 1938-39, well before India's independence. It then took them over 50 years to get their hands on the trophy again, in 1989-90. Bengal have reached the final thrice since that win, but no cigar.

From Monday they will wrestle with Saurashtra on their home turf in Rajkot. But Bengal remain confident. Keeping their spirits up is their mentor-cum-coach Arun Lal - 'Banglar Lal', they called him, the darling of Bengal - who was one of the stars of that 1989-90 win.

ESPNcricinfo spoke with Lal and his team-mates, who recounted that title-winning run of almost three decades ago against a star-studded Delhi at the Eden Gardens.


The Task

Delhi had six India cricketers - Maninder Singh, Raman Lamba, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma, Sanjeev Sharma and captain Kirti Azad - and one who would play for the country in a few days' time, Atul Wassan. Also domestic legends like KP Bhaskar and Bantoo Singh. They had beaten Bengal at Feroz Shah Kotla in the final the previous season.

Sambaran Banerjee, captain and wicketkeeper

"Many of them had just come back from New Zealand, they were outstanding cricketers. But we were playing at Eden Gardens, and we felt we could beat anyone. I said that at the team meeting too, that we had a good chance because we were playing at home. We had that belief. But belief isn't enough, it's not like punching another person, we had to play good cricket.

"There were ego issues within the team, of course. But when we were on the field, we didn't care. We had to win. I managed to drill that in. Not everyone liked me, I also had problems with others, but we managed to pull in the same direction. The day before the game, I stopped training and brought PK Banerjee [former India football captain and coach] to speak to the players, and motivate them. He used war analogies. That made a difference. It was almost like for seven hours we were at war."

Snehasish Ganguly

"We felt that about Eden Gardens, that it was an ego thing, we couldn't let someone come and beat us at Eden Gardens. It was our space. It was a matter of self-respect. It wasn't acceptable to us."

The Mood

"I used to travel by metro those days, so people would come up in the morning and say, 'Jeet-tei hobey, jeet-tei hobey' (you have to win, you have to win). I told Arun, they have almost an Indian XI, how will we win? He said, 'We will, we will try our guts out and see'. And we did. But I still say the crowd won it, not us. We were so charged up when we saw the crowd. I don't know - 50,000-60,000 people. I had never seen that in India. We fielded like tigers, and we got them out. The bowlers bowled so well, they bowled their hearts out. Saradindu got someone run out, which was unbelievable, because he wasn't a good fielder. Raja Venkat took a blinder at forward short-leg. It was unbelievable.

"The best moment of my cricket career, more than being part of the team that won the World Championship in Australia.

"I used to travel by metro those days, so people would come up in the morning and say, 'Jeet-tei hobey, jeet-tei hobey' (you have to win, you have to win). I told Arun, they have almost an Indian XI, how will we win?"

"That match, Delhi had 11 people and we had 50,000. Believe me, we didn't win that final, the crowd did, they just intimidated Delhi and they lost."

The Match

Delhi batted first, and were rattled by the pace duo of Dattatreya Mukherjee and Rajib Seth. Half the side, including Lamba, Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma and Bhaskar, were out with just 90 runs on the board. Azad's 93 and Bantoo Singh's 36 gave Delhi a bit of a chance with 278.

"Eden Gardens those days was a pacer's paradise. The large galleries [concrete stands] had already come up, but there was always something for the fast bowlers in the first hour and then in the evening, mainly because of the breeze from the river [Ganges]. This time, it was also very cloudy. It rained so much. So we knew the fast bowlers would do well."

Sambaran Banerjee

"Dattatreya was magnificent. Rajib Seth too. Sourav didn't bowl [he bowled six wicketless overs], and we had our most senior bowler, Sagarmoy Sen Sharma, in the reserves. We had a good pace attack. We always did. But because there were so much rain, we had to keep going off. That helped us, because Dattatreya and Rajib Seth could bowl more overs than usual. And Utpal and Saradindu [Mukherjee] were magnificent, they kept things tight when they came on."

Arun Lal

"We were rank outsiders, not expected to beat six-seven-eight India players. When Delhi got out for under 300, I remember telling one of their players, 'Boss, ab toh Krishan ji bhi tumko nahin bacha sakte hain. (Even Lord Krishna can't save you now). Even if he is riding your chariot, you can't win.' We were expecting 500. They had everyone. All of them I knew, they were my juniors [Lal started his first-class career in Delhi]. And then we went ahead and did it."

Did it in terms of winning. But it wasn't outright. Two innings weren't complete, and Bengal in fact scored fewer runs than Delhi. Those were the days of 'quotient'. In case of matches where there was no clear leader after the first-innings exchanges, a team's runs were divided by the number of wickets lost. Whoever had a better number won. In the final that year, only 164.2 overs of play was possible at Eden Gardens because of rain. Delhi's 278 gave them a quotient of 27.8. Bengal ended on 216 for 4 - a quotient of 54.

"I was 17 and I was making my debut in the final. I think the first two balls hit my bat, instead of me hitting the ball. Then I hit some [five] fours."

Arun Lal

"We knew the rules, we knew we just had to stay there, not lose wickets. We lost two wickets early [20 for 2], and then I stayed there but we lost Sourav and Ashok too. But Raja Venkat and I managed to bat on. We had the rain delays and the rest day, but we just decided to bat on. If runs came good, if they didn't, okay, we just didn't want to get out."

It's likely that Bengal would have topped Delhi's total anyway, because when play ended, they were just 62 runs adrift with six wickets in hand, Arun Lal on 52 and Venkat on 39. So yes, they did it all right.


Ganguly in, Ganguly out

Snehasish Ganguly was having a decent season, as in the previous few years: 167 runs from five innings, and an average of 55.66. There was talk that he could be in the fray for the India team and Raj Singh Dungarpur, the chairman of selectors, had turned up for the final and one of the reasons - we are told - was to watch Snehasish. Except, the day before the final, he was told he wouldn't play, and it would be his brother Sourav playing instead.

Snehasish Ganguly

"It was a huge setback. I don't know the reason even now. Maybe it was a team combination thing - Sourav was a bowler too, and I don't regret it; I was replaced by Bengal's best player. Raj Singh criticised the CAB. My father told me that he had shouted at someone saying, 'How can you drop someone when he might play for India?'"

Snehasish never played for India, while Sourav went on to become, well, Sourav.

Sourav Ganguly

"I was 17 ['he didn't even have a proper moustache,' Sambaran remembers], and I was making my debut in the final. It was already a massive moment. And then… it was very special. I was a bit out of place initially. I think the first two balls hit my bat, instead of me hitting the ball. Then I hit some [five] fours. I was nervous, but I managed.

"I came into a winning team, and that definitely shaped me. Ashok Malhotra, Arun Lal, Utpal Chatterjee, Snehasish... I used to watch them train, and I was playing with them. Sambaran Banerjee told me the evening before the game that I would play. It was like a fairy tale."

The after-party

Arun Lal

"Receptions, every day. It was huge! God, yaar, there were felicitations for a month. Even on the ground that day, I had to go around high-fiving the crowd. There must have been 25,000 people, throwing Holi colours. Shouting, singing, crying… Those days they had that beautiful gold Charminar trophy for the Man of the Match. Silver ones for semis and quarters. I had the gold Charminar. It was a beautiful thing. It was a beautiful moment."

Ashok Malhotra

"Arun and I are married to Bengalis, so we are like the jamai babu (sons-in-law). Arun was already settled in Calcutta. I was still moving back and forth from Delhi. But after that, I was accepted. That day, after we won, everyone in the crowd, and even outside, started calling me jamai babu. I would be lying if I said that that was the moment I wanted to make Calcutta my home, but I think it mattered. I had never felt such love in Haryana or Delhi."

These interviews were conducted before the start of the ongoing Ranji Trophy season.

Shamya Dasgupta is Senior Assistant Editor at ESPNcricinfo