In Manchester, after India beat Pakistan by 89 runs on 16 June, the mood was sombre. As with any such World Cup clash between these arch-rivals, the pre-match hype was unreal. The fans — from both countries — had put up an electric atmosphere. There was fun and frolic, music and dance, and cricket to be enjoyed. Except the cricketing bit turned out to be quite anti-climatic as the Men in Blue took a 7-0 lead in ODI World Cup history.
Let it be said here — India-Pakistan match-ups in any cricket World Cup induce a lot of pre-match hoopla for obvious reasons, but the on-field returns are quite underwhelming. Change this sub-continental rivalry to India-Bangladesh, and at least in terms of recent history, this clash has provided far more excitement, both on and off the field.
It began in 2007 of course, when Bangladesh gatecrashed India’s party in the Caribbean, forever changing format-dynamics of any ICC event. Virender Sehwag made his feelings well known in 2011 then, as India exacted sweet revenge in Dhaka en-route to lifting the trophy. A no-ball to Rohit Sharma in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final at Melbourne was subject of hot debates for months (and it still is!).
Add to it, the tri-series’ win at home for Bangladesh immediately after that tournament, the 2016 World T20 clash at Bengaluru and drama in the 2018 Nidahas T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka. The summation is a simmering rivalry, one that is impatiently waiting to boil over.
On Tuesday, Edgbaston will be decked in blue and in green-red. Passion will simmer again, tensions will rise, songs will be sung, and jibes directed at fellow fans. There is unbridled joy when these two teams come together on the cricket field, and mutual respect. Mostly though, there is an intense desire — of victory. India don’t want to lose this game, any game to this opposition. Bangladesh want to beat this opposition, at all costs, and on the grandest stage.
There have been times when emotions have spilled over into disrespect among fans, whether at grounds, or on social media. That is a good sign though, of that same desire, of not giving an inch away, and making their mark. Playing in the sub-continent, cricketers can start living in cocoons. They might not want to show it, never mind; such passion touches them too.
Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, and Mushfiqur Rahim were there in 2007, when the mighty Indian giant first fell against Bangladesh. They were a young bunch of cricketers, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that victory fuelled their imagination to become who they are today. As a bunch, this is probably their last tournament together, and once again they find India in way of their progress. They want to be heroes; nay, there are already heroes. It is just a matter of crossing the finish line. It is a proper Bollywood script.
Make no mistake, Bangladesh are having a marvellous tournament. Sure, they could have beaten New Zealand too, but the Black Caps are no chums. The underlying point being nobody should be surprised that we are in the last week of the league stage and the Tigers are still in contention. It is simple mathematics — two games, two wins, and that elusive qualification.
The only cause for concern here is the eight-day gap since their last game against Afghanistan. Every team has got a week off at different times in what has been a hectic tournament. For Bangladesh, who are a team reliant heavily on the likes of Shakib and Rahim, this break could have sucked out all momentum. Alternately, it could have given them the much-needed boost ahead of this all-important clash, knowing full well that India will be licking their wounds after defeat to England.
Most of their attention would have gone to pitch and dimensions on offer at Edgbaston for this game. Shakib, Mehidy Hassan, and Mosaddek Hossain forming the spin troika is almost a given. Imagine, Bangladesh batting first and putting the Indians under a tough chase, for it is the same pitch on which England smacked 337 on Sunday. The pitch had an uneven bounce that afternoon itself, and is bound to slow down further for the second innings.
Imagine if India could be put under pressure in lieu of early wickets and then the Bangladesh spinners come on to trouble their middle order. That’s the equation now, isn’t it? Every team left in the fray here knows this Indian side has been reduced to a two-batsman line-up — Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Together, they have scored approximately 25 percent and 22 per cent of India’s runs in this World Cup, respectively.
In simpler terms, there is no Plan B beyond Sharma-Kohli batting deep and letting the middle order finish things. Barring one innings, KL Rahul has refused to share the burden at the top, and that is the measure of Shikhar Dhawan’s loss. A never-ending experimentation in the middle order has only heaped pressure on two star batsmen — Sharma looks to bat as deep as he can and Kohli looks to anchor the entire innings. What would happen if they fall cheaply?
Playing Rishabh Pant ahead of Vijay Shankar against England might have been a forced change, but it still does give an impetus to the innings. The left-hander was quite nervous and didn’t handle the situation very well. Even so, there is much hype about him and one wonders if it is starting to get to him. There is only so much Hardik Pandya can do alone, and either Pant or MS Dhoni-Kedar Jadhav have to start arriving at the party.
Dhoni is not going anywhere. Pandya is nearly indispensable. The question to ask here is if India can re-arrange their middle order, atleast until Mayank Agarwal gets here. Does Jadhav have a role to play at number four, with Pant either dropping down or Dinesh Karthik getting a look-in as the finisher? What about Ravindra Jadeja? With Bhuvneshwar Kumar still missing, could India be tempted to play him and beef up their batting line-up?
Perhaps the biggest incentive to play Jadeja would be the short boundaries in this game. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were repeatedly targeted in that area, and there was nothing the Indian field setting could do about it. It is one thing to say the wrist spinners had an off day, but to concede 160 runs in 20 overs suggests England got hold of them pretty good. Is it a template the other teams could follow? What message would it send though if either of the wrist spinners is dropped after only one poor game?
In this melee, there is only calmness quotient for India, and it is the performance of their pace combination — Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. The Men in Blue, after dispensing with their bright orange change-overs, will be hoping to make inroads into the Bangladesh line-up through their better pace resources.
The 2018 Asia Cup was when these two sides last met in the ODI arena. In 2017, they met here in the Champions Trophy semi-final too, a game Bangladesh lost because they surrendered wickets in the middle overs. Maybe that is the key — to hold patience when the opposition draws first blood, for the Tigers have a tendency to get emotional in this match-up.
Qualification is on the line on Tuesday. India need only a point, but Bangladesh need the win to survive and take the fight to Pakistan at Lord’s later in the week.