India versus Bangladesh contests on the cricket field, even a few years ago were considered to be those between 'Big Brother' and 'Bachchas' (kids). One is tempted to bring up the 'Bachcha' reference here because it will always be remembered as one of the greatest embarrassments for India, and Indian cricket in particular.
In 2015, an advertisement on Indian television portrayed Bangladesh as the 'Bachcha' of world cricket that is starting to grow up. Would you take it as a compliment? Not if that 'compliment' is laced with a snide allusion. It caused much heartburn for the Bangladesh cricket fans, who are among the one of the most passionate ones in the world, and what's worse for India, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team was thumped in the ODI series and the advertisement came back to haunt them. More importantly, it was a reminder that Bangladesh were now a force to reckon with; an advice for the Indians to genuinely upgrade their estimation of Bangladesh cricket, instead of merely acknowledging Bangladesh's coming of age, while feeling magnanimous in doing so. The Indians were hit hard by Mustafizur Rahman and Co, and hurt pretty bad, and they had to wake up and smell the coffee.
Bangladesh, over the years, have put up some memorable performances against India. One remembers vividly the way they stunned their illustrious opponents in the 2007 World Cup and nearly caught them off guard again in the 2016 World T20. They missed a golden chance of beating India in front of their own fans owing to some horrible blunders by Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah at the 'death', and indeed by a certain MS Dhoni turning into superman.
The same Mahmudullah is now the captain of the side and Rahim is fresh from perhaps the knock of the tournament so far. Bangladesh's performance in their first match of the Nidahas Trophy wasn't up to scratch as they choked against India, but then stormed back into the tournament with a record run chase of 215 against hosts Sri Lanka. Rahim slammed an unbeaten 72 off 35 balls with five fours and four hits over the ropes, after the openers Tamim Iqbal and Liton Das had laid a solid foundation, that helped the Tigers hunt down the Lankan Lions.
It was Bangladesh's highest-ever chase in the shortest version of the game and the fourth-highest in T20I history. So India would underestimate Bangladesh at their own peril. It would be a big mistake to go by what Bangladesh dished out against them in the first match, for here is a team that has a wonderful ability to surprise you when you are least prepared for it. Yes, they may be without their talisman Shakib Al Hasan, but they still have a lot of fuel in their tank.
India would, therefore, have to bring their A-game to the storied R Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday. They would be assured by the fact that their bowlers had bounced back after going for plenty in the first match against Sri Lanka. And that is not a mean feat on the batting-friendly Premadasa surface. Shardul Thakur had gone for 12 runs per over in the first match against the Lankans, and his pace-bowling partner Jaydev Unadkat had gone for only a shade less, with only a wicket between them. Ace wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who had proven to be a handful for many an opposition in recent times, also failed to do anything significant.
The second match, against Bangladesh, saw the Indians coming back into the fray with a bang, and it was largely engineered by their bowlers. Thakur bowled a tight quota of overs and Unadkat accounted for three opposition batsmen, though he was a touch expensive. Chahal was right on the money and medium pacer Vijay Shankar returned with decent figures of 2/32 in his four overs. Against Sri Lanka in the next match, Thakur did the star turn with 4/27 and was ably supported by young off-spinner Washington Sundar, who took two wickets for just 21 runs in his quota of overs.
Talking about the Indian batting, while runs from Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik will be a cause for relief, captain Rohit Sharma's wretched run is bound to be disconcerting. Such has been Rohit's struggle of late that the last time he scored anything worthwhile was a month and eight matches ago - the hundred against South Africa in the fifth ODI of the series in Port Elizabeth. He looks a batsman far removed from the marauder he was in the limited-overs series against the Lankans late last year.
The hard-hitting wicket-keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant would also want to get some big runs under his belt. He comes with a tremendous reputation of being a real nightmare for bowlers and is largely seen as Dhoni's successor in the Indian team. It is true that he has still not had adequate opportunities, but he would have perhaps realised himself that it is difficult to get a look-in till Dhoni is around. So the next best course of action is to make every opportunity count. He would also have to be mindful of the fact that in the frenzied competition for berths in the Indian team that has become the order of the day, there may not be too many chances that he would get to match his Under-19 and domestic achievements at the international level.
A win here will guarantee India a passage into the final on Sunday, with everything to play for in the Sri Lanka versus Bangladesh match on Friday. A win for Bangladesh on Wednesday will give their hopes of qualifying for the final a big boost.
Mahmudullah had recently talked about wanting "to create a Bangladesh brand of cricket". He said his side needed to compensate for the lack of power-hitters.
"I think the skills are there. We need to be smart to take that calculated risk. Taking on a particular bowler who we think can be targeted, these sort of things we need to apply when we are playing. These things will give us that Bangladesh brand of T20 cricket," he said.
It will be interesting to see if Mahmudullah's team is able to do what he had envisaged and spring a surprise on India. It is this quality to surprise more-fancied opposition that makes Bangladesh dangerous.
India: Rohit Sharma(c), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Jaydev Unadkat, Mohammed Siraj, Rishabh Pant, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Deepak Hooda, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Suresh Raina, Axar Patel, Vijay Shankar, Shardul Thakur.
Bangladesh: Mahmudullah(c), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Nurul Hasan, Mehidy Hasan, Ariful Haque, Nazmul Islam, Abu Hider Rony, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim, Sabbir Rahman, Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Abu Jayed, Taskin Ahmed, Imrul Kayes