For someone whose first vivid cricket memory was a club match between Union Sporting and Biswabharati Cricket Club in Cuttack, you could understand the deep connection that I had established with the grassroot sport so early in my life. It was never the Tendulkars or the Gangulys of the world that had fascinated me as much as a certain Niranjan Behera or Deepak Mangaraj did. The love for grind made me realize so early that following domestic cricket was a much better proposition than star-gazing on the international circuit.
It was this love that made me fall in love with Odisha Cricket. It was a time Odisha boasted stalwarts like Shiv Sundar Das, Debasish Mohanty, Sanjay Raul, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Pravanjan Mullick, and Pinnati Jayachandra among others and it was at a time when Odisha made it to their first-ever Ranji Trophy semi-final in 2000-01. It was a golden era, if ever there was one.
Basant Mohanty made a colossal entry to that club, made the domestic cricket his oyster on a chilly December morning in Siliguri almost 15 years ago, dismantling the Bengal batting order with a six-fer on debut. With Debasish Mohanty being at the fag end of his career, Basant’s entry was a great hope for Odisha cricket - which still had a thriving club culture across Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Raurkela. The speedster lived that hope every single day, without compromise, without any inhibitions, and with an infectious smile on his face.
Basant Mohanty’s retirement after the last round of the Ranji Trophy match against Bengal at the Eden Gardens brought all those memories back. His was a career never meant for Odisha cricket; it should have been reserved for the highest echelon of Indian domestic cricket and it was a shame that a player of his caliber never played in a Ranji Trophy final. The closest that he came to an Indian selection was playing a couple of A matches against New Zealand A, but ask any domestic cricketer, they would tell you the sheer devastating impact that Basant could have in a game, almost single-handedly.
Manoj Tiwary summed it up beautifully. “A tribute post for a champion bowler who says goodbye to cricket in his last game against us here at Eden gardens. 400 first class wickets at an average of 20 is a remarkable achievement. He reminded me yesterday that I was his debut wkt and he wants 2 finish it with my wicket. Basant Mohanty, U are a legend who has a lot to offer back to cricket by sharing your knowledge on fast bowling. Best wishes always brother,” Manoj Tiwary wrote on his social media handles.
To understand the impact of Basant, you need to understand the Odisha cricket psyche in general. Post 2010, the cricket has perpetually been in doldrums, uncertainty has been the order of the day and no cricketer could have claimed to have come close to national selection. Even in the Kalahandi Cup, Odisha Cricket Association’s inter-district competition, things have been so dire that the next talent was always a matter of chance rather than careful planning. Basant became a necessity rather than a luxury.
The emergence of Deepak Behera and Suryakanta Pradhan eased his concern a little bit, but with the standard of batting going down even further, Basant could never afford a bad day in the office. Throughout his career, till the 2019-20 season, when Odisha made it to the quarter finals of the Ranji Trophy, Basant was the primary weapon his captains relied on.
403 wickets at an average of 20.97 in 105 first-class matches is legendary enough, but I would remember Basant Mohanty as a genuinely good human being who always had time for a laugh and a good rant. Be it a grand day on the field, when he would have grounded some of the finest batters in the country, or on a tough outing when Odisha would have been handed a rough deal, Mohanty would always have a beaming smile on his face, while sipping tea near the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack. A picture of equanimity and self-confidence.
Without much adulation, he continued to thrive and never let the non-selection come in his way of success. That is a legacy that wouldn’t be matched by many and for Odisha Cricket, it would be the benchmark they can only wish to hit. His retirement brought a big chapter in Odisha cricket to an end. The likes of Biplab Samantray and Govinda Poddar are at the final stages of their career and the new guards are slowly taking over. How much success would the Subhranshu Senapati-led side would garner is left to interpretation, following their lack of success in the recent times, but that would be done without the big hands of Basant Mohanty, and that gaping hole would be telling.