With the lack of India vs Pakistan clashes in the recent past, it won't be an overstatement to say that the green of India's fiercest rivals (on and off the cricket field) has been replaced to a large extent by the green of Bangladesh Tigers, on the cricket field. When these two sub-continent teams renew their rivalry in Mirpur on Wednesday in the Asia Cup T20, there will no shortage of narrative.
Bangladesh cricket fans, ever since the perceived injustice of Rohit Sharma's 'non-dismissal' off a no-ball, in the World Cup quarter-final no less, have held a special grudge against India. The outrage was immense, with BCCI's stronghold on the game was alleged as one of the reasons for Bangladesh's ouster from the marquee event.
Fast forward a few months, MS Dhoni's team was sent back home with tails between their legs as young Mustafizur Rehman wreaked havoc to hand India a shock 1-2 defeat. At the end of the series, even Bangladesh media milked the most of defeating their close rivals - as evidenced by this 'ad' - as a direct retort to the campaign run by India's broadcaster Star Sports referring to Bangladesh to as Bachchas.
The teams might not accept it openly, but make no mistake, the fans know this is a grudge match.
While Mahendra Singh Dhoni has always stated that "revenge is a very strong word in sport", the Indian team will be keen to get even against a strong Bangladesh side that beat them fair and square in a three-ODI series at the same venue last year under hostile circumstances with a partisan crowd behind them.
As India enter the final phase of their preparations for next month's World Twenty20, a cloud of uncertainty exists over skipper Dhoni's availability which may disturb the side's momentum going into the tournament-opener against Bangladesh.
The skipper suffered a muscle spasm during the team's training session on Tuesday, prompting the BCCI to rush Parthiv Patel as his back-up. If Dhoni fails to make the fitness cut for Wednesday's match, it could result in a minor rejig to the batting order and Yuvraj Singh may get some valuable time in the middle.
The continental championship will be played in a Twenty20 format from the usual ODI keeping the World T20 in mind and the need for the Asian teams to get some much-needed match time before the marquee event starts next month.
For India, who are considered as title contenders, a good Asia Cup performance will give them the much-needed boost going into the World T20.
The ODI series last year saw the emergence of left-arm pacer Mustafizur, who bamboozled the Indian batsmen with his variations. This tournament will also give 'Men in Blue' an opportunity to crack the 'Mustafizur Code', having failed miserably the last time round.
Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza spoke of highly of the youngster yet again, sounding a warning for the Indian batsmen.
Mustafiz (that's how Mashrafe refers to him) has many variations of his slow-cutters. It is important as to how confident he is about the execution part. He does he not focus on opposition batsmen and only concentrates on what he knows best. You can do your homework against Mustafiz but it might not work," Mashrafe said in the pre-match media conference on Tuesday.
The Indians have started their T20 preparations in right earnest having won back-to-back series against Australia Down Under and Sri Lanka at home. In the six T20 internationals played this year, India have won five with the only defeat coming against Sri Lanka on an unusual Pune pitch in the last series. The domestic calendar was rescheduled as well, with the Syed Mushtaq Ali (T20s) and Vija Hazare (List A) trophies rescheduled ahead of the Ranji Trophy's knock-out phase.
If India reach the finals of the Asia Cup, it will be another five T20 matches, taking the number of matches to 11 before the start of the World T20, and according to Team Director Ravi Shastri would be "just what the doctor ordered".
Bangladesh, on the other hand, have hardly had any T20I exposure, other than the six - matches they played against Zimbabwe at the end of last year and beginning of this year - with a disappointing record of winning three and losing three. Hardly the right preparation for the ICC World T20, but Mortaza's team will be raring to go in the Asia Cup.
The Indian team under Dhoni has looked set in the shortest format but, as Firstpost wrote looking ahead to the Asia Cup, the real test starts now as the business end of the preparation commences.
Momentum will be key from now and Dhoni's men will be keen to seize the advantage even though it won't be easy against a Bangladesh side who are more than a handful on home soil. Dhoni has indicated that he would give 'game time' to all 15 players in the squad although it is the winning combination that is expected to play against Bangladesh on Wednesday.
The batting order looks set with the tried and tested combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma at the top of the order. Virat Kohli comes back at No. 3 after a three-week break post Australia tour. India's shortest format specialist Suresh Raina will be at No. 4 followed by Yuvraj Singh, who is slowly coming back to form since that last-over six in Sydney.
Ravindra Jadeja and the big-hitting Hardik Pandya make it a strong top-eight for India as far as batting in the T20 format is concerned. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah complete the line-up. Bumrah, however, did not train on Tuesday and team sources said he is a "little under the weather and advised rest".
Though a lean day may happen anytime, India's batting order is otherwise in an "auto-pilot mode". The bowling will certainly be expected to get its act together on sluggish sub-continental pitch with Ashwin the leader of the pack.
After an indifferent ODI series in Australia, Ashwin found his mojo back at the start of the T20 series with 13 wickets from last six T20 games. In the series against Sri Lanka, he was virtually unplayable, grabbing nine wickets in three games with career-best figures of 4/8 in the decider in Visakhapatnam.
Nehra and Bumrah make an useful pace attack with one with loads of experience and ability to read match situations, the other with an unusual action to rattle the batsmen. Both bowl yorkers at will.
Bangladesh's strength is their bowling attack with Mustafizur, Taskin Ahmed and Al-Amin Hossain expected to pose a lot of challenge for the Indian batsmen. With a handsome IPL contract in bag, Mustafizur may again intimidate the Indian batsmen with Taskin and Al-Amin for support.
Not to forget the enormous experience of skipper Mashrafe Mortaza and all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan. The duo, on their day along with former captain Mushfiqur Rahim, could tilt the scales in home team's favour. Left-handed batsman Soumya Sarkar, World Cup hero Mahmudullah make it a potent batting line-up for Bangladesh.
When you consider that Bangladesh have five players who are set to feature in all six ICC World T20 events in Shakib, Mortaza, Mushfiqur, Tamim and Mahmudullah — you get an idea about the team's balance.
When the coin goes up for a toss in Mirpur on Wednesday, expect the roar to reach a crescendo and there should be no bigger motivation for Bangladesh to upset India's applecart. Despite reputation and form, this promises to be a fascinating contest.
THE SQUADS (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Ashish Nehra, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ajinkya Rahane, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pawan Negi, Parthiv Patel.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (captain), Imrul Kayes, Nurul Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Nasir Hosain, Shabbir Rahaman, Mahmudullah Riyadh, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Shakib Al Hasan, Al-Amin Hossain, Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahaman, Abu Hider, Mohammed Mithun, Arafat Sunny.
Match starts: 1900 hrs IST.
With inputs from PTI