All’s well that ends well, and the Men in Blue posed proudly with the series trophy at the conclusion of the three-T20I series against Bangladesh, the final fixture of which ended in an Indian victory at Nagpur on Sunday.
However, much like several of their recent meetings, Team India were made to toil hard to get over the finish line as the resilient Bangladeshis, barring a hiccup at Rajkot, impressed as a unit despite going through turbulent times of late.
Team India, perennial favourites on home soil regardless of opposition, were dealt a blow at the start of the series when they found themselves desperately looking for answers while defending a modest total. Batting first, after all, has become an issue for them of late, especially in T20Is, and one that regular captain Virat Kohli seeks to address in the build-up to next year’s World T20.
Mushfiqur Rahim anchored the chase with an unbeaten 60 at a smog-hit Delhi in the series opener to not only step out of Shakib Al Hasan’s shadow, but to give the visitors hope of clinching their first-ever series victory on Indian soil.
While India bounced back with a clinical performance at Rajkot to level the series, they were in for another scare in the deciding match at Nagpur when Mohammad Naim Sheikh and Mohammad Mithun threatened to take the game and the series away with a 98-run second-wicket stand, ultimately requiring a match-defining spell from Deepak Chahar, for the trophy to slip out of their grasp.
Both India and Bangladesh have positives to collect from the T20I series, as well as certain areas they need to work on with a year left for ICC's biggest 20-over event. Here are some of the takeaways from the recently-concluded bilateral series:
Pant and Khaleel's woes worsen
India’s preparation for the World T20 began right after their semi-final exit from the recently-concluded 50-over World Cup, and every T20I taking place between the two ICC events is an audition for the players to stake a claim to a ticket to Australia.
That Rishabh Pant is going through one of the leanest patches of his career is fairly established by now, and his struggles both with the bat in hand as well as in his glovework behind the stumps have bolstered voices critical of his selection in the senior team at the expense of the likes of Sanju Samson.
Pant’s shot-selection had even drawn a warning from the head coach himself, and the Delhi Capitals keeper-batsman kept finding himself getting dismissed off miscued slogs and needless hits in the last three T20Is as well. Add to that a few missed chances behind the stumps as well as having a say in a couple of wasted reviews, and you can’t help but feel for the youngster.
While Pant still has the backing of stand-in captain Rohit Sharma, Kohli and indeed the rest of the team management, the same cannot quite be said of Khaleel Ahmed, whose performances were marked by a lack of discipline and questionable lines and lengths that resulted in him collecting just two wickets across three games at an average of 54.
His confidence particularly took a major hit in the penultimate over of the Bangladesh innings in Delhi when Mushfiqur hit four consecutive boundaries off him, and he he hasn't quite been the same ever since. With senior pacers Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar to return from their breaks at some point in the future as well as the emergence of Deepak Chahar, it will be very difficult for Khaleel to make his way back into the side.
Iyer finds the answer to No 4... for now
There has been a plenty of hue and cry in Indian cricket over one particular batting position in the limited-overs formats this year, and though it isn’t as widely discussed any more as it was in the build-up to the 50-over World Cup, the fact remains that the No 4 spot still isn’t quite what one can call a settled issue.
Well Shreyas Iyer’s blazing half-century at Nagpur as well as handy contributions at Delhi and Rajkot will have pleased his seniors and the coaching staff to no end, with the Mumbaikar now expected to get an extended run at two-down in next few series’.
His strokeplay, especially his flamboyant hits straight over the bowler’s head and all the way to the sight screen, were a delight to watch in the recently-concluded series and his innings, along with that of KL Rahul’s, had paved the way for India to post a competitive total on the board in the series decider at Jamtha.
Add to that Manish Pandey’s 13-ball 22 not out in a valiant finishing effort in the same match, and we might have another middle-order conundrum this time around, albeit this being a happy headache much like the case with the Indian Test bowling unit.
Chahar's here to stay
Despite vital contributions coming in from various members of the victorious Indian team, Sunday night without a doubt belonged to a certain Deepak Lokandersingh Chahar, who finally made his big breakthrough into the international scene, and boy is he now looking forward to bowling alongside the Bumrahs and Bhuvneshwars in the full strength XI.
Putting his prodigious swing to good use against the Bangladeshis, Chahar made a economical comeback in the second game after going at eight-an-over in the defeat in the first. He held his end up with some tight bowling while the Tigers fell victim to Chahal’s guile at the other due to the pressure created, resulting in a sub-par score that was easily chased down.
On Sunday, Chahar was once again Rohit’s go-to man whenever the skipper needed a breakthrough or contain runs from one end. After grabbing two early wickets, he helped break the dangerous-looking partnership between Naim and Mohammad Mithun, tipping the balance back in India’s favour.
Few would’ve imagined him entering the record books later that night though, as he became the first Indian male bowler to collect a T20I hat-trick and now boasts of the best bowling figures in men’s T20Is.
Safe to guess which member of the Indian contingent would have partied the hardest back in the team hotel.
Naim, Aminul make a solid impression
The Tigers do have a plenty of positives to take from the series, the biggest of them being their ability to bounce back from situations as adverse as the recent player-board strike that nearly derailed their tour. Then there was the senior member of the team Mushfiqur stepping up to the task in Delhi when his team needed him the most, and burying the ghosts of Bengaluru 2016 with an innings to remember.
However, Bangladesh’s biggest takeaway from this tour will be the emergence of Naim as their hard-hitting option for the opener’s slot. There were doubts cast over the top three’s ability to guide the team to solid starts after senior opener Tamim Iqbal had opted out of the tour due to personal reasons.
That however, was an opportunity for the selectors and the team management to push Naim to the spot vacated by the veteran southpaw, and the 20-year-old left-hander grabbed the chance with both hands, especially in the third T20I in which his 48-ball 81 almost single-handedly kept Bangladesh’s series hopes alive.
Another member of Bangladesh’s young brigade to make his mark in the series was Aminul Islam Biplob, who finished level with Shafiul Islam on the series wickets column, but was more economical and had a better average, playing a central role in drying up the runs for the Men in Blue at the Arun Jaitley Stadium.
While the rest of the Bangladesh attack were belted out of the park by a rampaging Rohit in Rajkot, Aminul managed to keep things under control at his end, won a mini-battle against Shikhar Dhawan and accounted for the two wickets that the Bangladeshis were able to collect in that innings.
The silent rivalry
While India have had a celebrated cricketing rivalry against Pakistan, and more recently against Australia and England, few seem to notice how India-Bangladesh contests are starting to become more exciting than ever, and recent fixtures serve as proof in this matter.
India had played a major role in bringing Bangladesh into the cricketing mainstream, helping them gain Test status and featuring in their maiden Test in 2000. While India swatted the struggling team aside for the most part in that decade, Bangladesh’s steady rise, especially in the white-ball formats, in the next decade meant that the gap was starting to reduce.
Their ODI series win against India at home only fuelled the rivalry even further and the two sides have produced some mouth-watering contests of late, especially in the ICC World T20 2016 group fixture as well as the summit clash of the Nidahas Trophy and the Asia Cup, both in 2018.
Even in this T20I series, the Indians couldn't afford to rest until Chahar castled Aminul to bring the curtains down on the series, highlighting once again how much of an improved side the Tigers are at the moment.
Stay clear of the smog
Last, but certainly not the least, the news of certain members of the visiting camp falling sick in the deadly Delhi smog during the first T20I should ring enough bells for the organisers to realise they cannot take environmental hazards lightly any more.
Newly-elected BCCI president Sourav Ganguly hailed players from both sides for enduring “tuff” conditions after talks of shifting the game out of the national capital had been doing the rounds in its build-up. Much like the Sri Lankans in the 2017 Test, the Bangladeshis too had to resort to anti-pollution masks during training. Such sights bring nothing but embarrassment for the organisers, and making athletes play under such circumstances could have dire consequences, as most would say.
Maybe host matches outside the northern part of the country, perhaps along the coast until the government as well as the citizens implement measure to tackle the crisis and prevent such a thing from happening the following year. Or just stop hosting matches in Delhi post-Diwali.
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Rohit featured as opener, Pant as wicketkeeper and Ashwin as the lone specialist spinner in the ICC Men's Test Team of the Year but no Indian was included in the global body's ODI XI for 2021.
Despite the prolonged lean run, team management and selectors have been indecisive in finding solutions to middle-order muddle.
Pant accounted for more than 50 per cent of India's total, while South Africa were sitting pretty on 101/2 at stumps after being set 212 to win on a day that saw tensions flare over a contentious DRS call.