Ashok Dinda has been a giant in domestic cricket for Bengal, his 339 Ranji Trophy wickets (out of 420 in first-class cricket) putting him 21st in the list of most successful bowlers in the competition. The journey with Bengal ended last season when an expletive-laden tirade at bowling coach Ranadeb Bose led to Dinda's suspension. He has now collected an NOC from Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), and is expected to link up with another team as a professional before the next season. Excerpts from an interview:
Why did it become impossible for you to stay with Bengal?
Well, I have played for Bengal for 15 years, so I have done what I could; now it's time for the next bunch of fast bowlers to take over. That is the formal answer. I have led the attack and helped the young bowlers for all these years, tried to do my best for Bengal, especially in tough times. That aside, I don't think I have a chance of playing for India or in the IPL again. At the age of 36, the chances are not there anymore. It gets difficult in Indian conditions. In India, fast bowlers rarely last beyond 33-34. Even a legend like Zaheer Khan had to go out, so where do we stand? But I am fit enough, I can bowl 10-12 overs every day. So… yeah, it just became impossible.
You are not wanted anymore…
Obviously it is frustrating. But I have to deal with it. I am not the first player to face this, and I won't be the last. Everyone has to stop one day. I have had a good run, and now it's time to find somewhere else to run. With my time with Bengal getting over, it's a chance to go out of the state and play for a few years, with a new set of players. I have only played here, with Bengal, so I don't know anything outside of Bengal [cricket]. It has given me everything I have - name, money, whatever I have is because of Bengal cricket. So I have no complaints there. Bengal has supported me at all times. How many people get so many opportunities? I served Bengal as well as I could, with my hard work, my patience, my skills. As for Bengal, it's not a bad thing. Ishan [Porel] and Akash Deep are good, young bowlers, and there's Mukesh [Kumar] and others in the reserves. It's good for them.
All that sounds a bit too diplomatic - tell us about the real reasons for leaving Bengal.
See, no one could have removed me because of my skills or my performances. I have been the highest wicket-taker for Bengal every season of the Ranji Trophy for the last six seasons [till 2018-19], and have picked up wickets across formats for 15 years. So there were no question marks there.
But since Arun Lal became the coach, he has been telling me constantly that I am no fit, I am not bowling enough, I have lost my swing, my pace, etc. Then he said I had to pass the yo-yo test and needed to score 16. I got 16.2 and stopped. So he said that I have to go for long runs to prove my fitness. But for the last many years, I have not gone for long-distance runs, that was not the system. The trainers made us do short sprints - the pace bowlers did 100-metre, 80-metre sprints. Power training. That's what I am used to. I can't run for an hour, and I won't too.
Another day, we were training and it had rained. So we were asked to run on the road. But Andrew Leipus had asked me not to run on the road. If I run on hard surfaces, my muscles tighten. Lalji said that the whole team was doing it, so I would have to as well. I didn't. So he got angry with me. That gave him another opportunity.
But was there an enmity in the past? What's the reason for the management singling you out?
Arun Lal hadn't been involved in any way since I became a part of the team, and even before that. He might have followed the newspapers, but nothing more. But, in any case, all of that didn't bother me much. I was doing my own thing, and I had informed Dadi [Sourav Ganguly, then CAB president] about all of this. So I didn't say anything to him, but I guess he remembered that I didn't listen to him.
Another time, during a Vijay Hazare Trophy game, Lalji asked me why I was leaving the field after bowling five-six overs. I said that I needed to change my clothes, because everything was wet with sweat. If you don't change, it could cause pains, tightening of the muscles. So he didn't say anything, but I could see that he didn't like it. And I guess he and the team management were looking for a reason [to suspend me].
What happened exactly with Ranadeb Bose? Did you not share a decent rapport with Bose, you did play together for Bengal for a few years?
We never got along. I don't want to get into details, but he has tried to harm me in many ways, and I usually ignored him. I played the first match [of the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy, against Kerala], and before the second game [against Andhra], there was the usual bowlers' meeting, and I didn't know the Andhra batsmen much. He (Bose) was speaking to Abhimanyu Easwaran (the captain) and started whispering. I asked him to speak loudly, to everyone. I wanted to know the plans. But he did the same thing again. I asked him to speak up, but he did the same thing again, for a third time. So I lost my cool. I told him that there's no point in having a team meeting.
For the last few years, since he became the bowling coach, he has never discussed anything with me, any plans or any discussions. Name another major fast bowler for Bengal in the last few years. No one. So he should be on good terms with me, shouldn't he? I did show him respect as a coach, but not as a person. So I said a few things to him, I abused him too. That's it! I was out. I became a disciplinary issue. I left the room, and I was told by Lalji to say sorry to Ranadeb Bose in front of the other players. I asked why and said, "you should first try to find out who was in the wrong". He refused, so I told him, "Lalji, if that is the case, I don't want to be a part of the team". Why should I stay if I am not respected?
Your contention is that the team had made a plan to sideline you?
Of course. I hadn't been taken for the Syed Mushtaq Ali [T20] Trophy before that. I asked the selectors for the reason but the chief selector (Palash Nandy) said that he didn't owe me a reason. I had an argument with him. I told him that if I ever saw him speaking to a cricketer, I would take exception, I wouldn't show him any respect then. So, to me, it seems like a pre-planned thing, where everyone - selectors, coaching staff…got together to sideline me.
What about the other senior players…?
Manoj [Tiwary] also has problems, but he keeps to himself, like I used to. It just crossed a line with me. They crossed a line, and then I couldn't handle it anymore.
All said, Bengal reached the Ranji Trophy final this year, after a long gap, without you. That must vindicate the stance of the team management.
They have done very well. The fast bowlers still have a lot to learn. The Eden Gardens pitch is such nowadays that it's very difficult for batsmen; it's a green top.
Look at the final [against Saurashtra in Rajkot], when the conditions were tougher [for bowlers]; I am sure that even if they batted that long, they wouldn't have scored so many runs if I had been there. The new bowlers need to learn that. I am not saying that I could have done it when I was inexperienced. But with all my years of bowling in India, I know how Bengal could have kept the target lower, by drying up the runs. With a bit of experience, these bowlers will also learn. They are talented. They have pace.
I played two Ranji finals at the start of my career. I have won the Duleep Trophy twice [2011-12 and 2012-13]. We have won the Vijay Hazare Trophy [2011-12], and the Deodhar Trophy [2014-15]. I would have liked to play this year and finish with another final appearance. But it's all right. No one gets everything they want.
Which one would you say was your most memorable match for Bengal?
Well, actually it was an Under-22 match that I remember most. We were playing on a flat pitch in Orissa (now Odisha), and they had six wickets in hand and just a few runs to get. It was a quarter-final match. So I got the ball in the morning and got all the six wickets. Wriddhiman [Saha] also says that it was my best performance.
Hypothetically speaking, if the personnel change and you get an offer to become Bengal's bowling coach in the future, will you take it up?
Obviously. Why not? I am not joking - Bengal has given me everything, and I owe the team a lot. Even when I was not with the team, you can ask the boys, I was in touch with Ishan and Akash, speaking to them and telling them what to do, how to bowl in specific conditions. I also went for the semi-final match at Eden Gardens [against Karnataka]. The Bengal team, Eden Gardens, the association, these are my temples. The problem is with the team management - even Sourav Ganguly wasn't spared, so who am I? I won't bowl for Bengal again, though.