A city that has been painted blue and white ever since the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress came into power in West Bengal now sports a completely different hue. The city of Kolkata is gearing up for the first-ever pink-ball Test on Indian soil this Friday.
The second Test between India and Bangladesh promises to be a star-studded spectacle, if the words of current BCCI president and the former India captain Sourav Ganguly are to be believed, and his efforts in this regard certainly seem to validate his claims.
The ‘Prince of Calcutta’ mooted the idea right after his appointment into the most powerful office in Indian (and indeed world) cricket, convinced a reluctant BCB into accepting it, got SG to start manufacturing pink balls on short notice, got the hallowed Eden Gardens all decked up for the occasion and has invited a horde of cricket legends as well as well-known faces from other walks of life — including the Bangladesh prime minister — to grace the occasion. There are a number of other things, including felicitations and cultural programmes planned for the landmark Test.
As historic as this occasion may be — made so all the more by the hype in its build-up — it doesn’t take anything away from the fact that for the 22 individuals in whose hands the fate of the match lies, it will be taking a step into the unknown. Only a handful from the current India squad played with the pink ball in the Duleep Trophy three years ago, but an international game in front of a packed Eden Gardens crowd is a different ball game altogether.
It has been four years since day-night Test cricket was introduced by the ICC with Australia and New Zealand playing the first-ever pink-ball international match under the lights at Adelaide. While most Test-playing nations have had a taste of the challenges that the pink ball throws up, India and Bangladesh have been late to the party — the former having shown reluctance all these years for reasons best known to the likes of Anurag Thakur, the Vinod Rai-led COA among others.
Virat Kohli — a man whose work ethic and approach towards the game has made him the finest batsman of this era across formats — himself isn’t too sure of what lies ahead, if his comments in the pre-match presser on Thursday are to be taken into account.
"Obviously, we wanted to get a feel of pink ball cricket. Eventually, it had to happen. But you can't just bring those things up before a big tour and suddenly in the schedule, there is a pink ball Test, when we have not even practised with pink ball. We have not played any first class game with the pink ball," Kohli told reporters on the eve of the Test. His views were also echoed by his Bangladesh counterpart Mominul Haque.
There will be concerns over the ability to sight the pink ball, especially once the floodlights are switched on, although both teams have spent some time in the nets getting their eyes trained for the same. Indian batting icon Sachin Tendulkar had raised the point of the dew factor and the impact it could have on the bowling changes. Ravichandran Ashwin had stressed on sharpening his arm balls, not expecting much turn with the pink SG later this weekend.
While the above factors will play a key role in shaping the course of what is the first day-night encounter in the ongoing ICC World Test Championship, it doesn’t quite level the playing field for the two teams who are separated by eight places in the ICC Test team rankings, the gulf of which was evident at Indore, where India hammered Bangladesh by an innings and 130 runs with the red ball — a stark contrast to the T20Is in which Bangladesh showed some competitiveness.
While the Indian team is fully fit, firing on all cylinders and riding high on confidence after a string of wins in the five-day format, the beleaguered Bangladesh side was dealt with a blow in the form of the injury-forced exit of reserve opener Saif Hassan. With the new ball expected to swing a lot more heavily early on in the innings, getting the team off to a decent start will be all the more challenging for the struggling opening pair of Shadman Islam and Imrul Kayes, who managed a total of 24 runs between them in the first Test.
The pace trio of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav breathed fire at the Holkar Stadium and will expected to come good at the Eden Gardens, with keeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha rather confidently stating that the colour of the ball doesn’t matter to them and neither does the track. Mayank Agarwal has been impressive so far in his nascent career so far, but was a different beast at Indore with his 243 and while eyes will be firmly fixed on the Bengaluru lad over the weekend, it remains to be seen whether Rohit Sharma and Kohli can bounce back from their low scores at Indore or not. The momentum is also firmly in the hosts’ favour and it will likely reflect in their body language once they take the field.
Bangladesh are clearly missing their star players in Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, and only Mushfiqur Rahim has shown an appetite for a fight among the current crop of seniors travelling across the border. Pace spearhead Mustafizur Rahman dished out insipid performances in the T20Is and was subsequently overlooked for the first Test. Should he be brought back into the XI for the all-important game starting Friday, he will have the responsibility of setting the right attitude and body language along with the captain and the other seniors in the side if they are to start afresh and open their account in the WTC.
Whether this match revolutionises the Test format in India at a time when turnouts for the traditional format in the country continue to disappoint, only time will tell. There are no immediate plans of making pink-ball Tests a regular feature, or of India playing one overseas anytime soon.
However, India and Bangladesh will have shared another historic cricketing moment nineteen years since the Tigers’ maiden Test against Ganguly and Co at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka. A bit late to the party, but better late than never.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddiman Saha (wk),Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hanuma Vihari, Kuldeep Yadav and Shubman Gill.
Bangladesh: Mominul Haque (c), Liton Das (wk), Mehidy Hasan, Nayeem Hasan, Al-Amin Hossain, Ebadot Hossain, Mossadek Hossain, Shadman Islam, Taijul Islam, Abu Jayed, Imrul Kayes, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Mithun, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mustafizur Rahman.
Venue: Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
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