Indian cricket fans will prepare themselves to witness the third act of their lengthy home Test season, when their team collides with Bangladesh in a one-off Test in Hyderabad starting Thursday.
One cannot blame the Indian team for being mentally upbeat ahead of the Test, given the roaring form that they have displayed in their recent outings in the five-day format. In the ongoing home season, the only time India faced some serious resistance was in the first Test against England in Rajkot, which required Virat Kohli to play a captain's knock to save the day. Barring that, a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand and a 4-0 beating of England paints a pretty dominant picture of the team when it comes to playing at home.
While the above notion has been shared by many in the Bangladeshi squad, there are those in the opposition camp who believe that the visitors cannot be taken lightly regardless of their struggles in their recent tour of New Zealand. Bangladesh will look to move on from the hardships that they encountered in the Oceanic nation, where they lost every single match that they took part in, even though they managed to put up an impressive show or two in its duration.
However, Bangladesh are a very different unit when in their own conditions, or similar for that matter. Lest we forget, they pulled off a historic victory over England in the final game of the two-Test series in Dhaka, utilising the turning conditions to great effect in that game. Everyone from Wriddhiman Saha to Cheteshwar Pujara have warned their team-mates against taking their opponents lightly.
"They have been playing well in the sub-continent. So, probably, that is one team that have done well against England. We can't take them lightly," Pujara said recently in the build-up to the Test.
The pair of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have become something of a focal point as far as Tests hosted in India are concerned, at least if their performances since the four-Test series against South Africa is taken into account. It hardly comes as a surprise that they will be hogging the limelight in the Indian bowling unit, although head coach and spin legend Anil Kumble did a fair job of reminding everyone of the contribution by the pacers in the form of timely dismissals.
"You spoke about spinners dominating against England. But, then fast bowlers' contribution you cannot take that away at all whether it was England or New Zealand. So, the home series has seen the fast bowlers coming in and contributing as well," said Kumble.
It remains to be seen whether the Indian team management goes with a sixth batsman, or decide to play an all-rounder in the form of Hardik Pandya. Whatever the case maybe, the selection of Jayant Yadav as a third spinner in the side looks more of less guaranteed, especially following Amit Mishra's withdrawal from the Test squad due to a knee injury. What makes him gel with the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja even more is his ability to produce a valuable innings or two with the bat, as was evident in his century against England in Mumbai.
Kuldeep Yadav, Mishra's replacement, probably deserves a pat on his shoulder for his maiden call-up, but that's about all the inspiration he will get for now.
Bangladesh however, have a fearsome spin combination of their own, and youngster Mehedi Hasan's impactful debut in the Test series against England — grabbing 19 wickets at a terrific average of 15.63 — has already made him the player to watch out for in the Bangladesh squad.
The other player to watch out for is Bangladesh's star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, for whom knowledge of the local conditions could come real handy in the match. Shakib was the second-highest wicket-taker in the England series, in which he formed something of a senior spin partner with Mehedi. And while his contributions with the ball certainly will prove crucial for 'The Tigers', let us not forget his magic with the bat.
Shakib, after all, is coming fresh after slamming a double-century — his career-highest score as well as the highest-ever by a Bangladeshi batsman. Partnering him in the middle-order and sharing the responsibility for scoring a majority of the runs is captain and wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim, who will look to come back strong into international cricket ever since getting knocked out by a vicious Tim Southee bouncer at Wellington.
At the top of the order you have the ever-reliable, and among the most technically superior batsman in the side in Tamim Iqbal, who was the leading run-scorer in the England Tests, helped himself to a half-century in New Zealand and produced a few decent strokes in his unbeaten 42 in the warm-up game against India A. In the absence of regular Test opener Imrul Kayes, who got ruled out due to a thigh strain, one-day batting sensation Soumya Sarkar seems to be the likely candidate walk out alongside Tamim at the start of the Bangladeshi innings.
The Indian opening combination, on the other hand, will likely see KL Rahul and Murali Vijay occupy the space, as indicated by Kumble. The inclusion of Abhinav Mukund, who has had a great domestic season to earn an Indian call-up after years, although his inclusion seems to be that of a back-up to the regular openers (as well as a means to send out a message to struggling opener Shikhar Dhawan).
If there is a toss-up for the Indian think-tank as far as the batting line-up is concerned, it will be between Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair for the No 5 slot. Whether they pick a tried-and-tested individual who has stockpiles of runs scored in the most testing of conditions globally, or a youngster who made a solid case for his retention in the side by becoming only the second Indian batsman to score a Test triple-hundred. The battle will be a real tough one in this case.
Last, but not the last, the year has been somewhat mixed for Virat Kohli the batsman so far, even if we are a little over a month into 2017 so far. Such was his brilliance in the previous year that a low score was something that an Indian fan would struggle to associate with the batting superstar. After a dismal run in the Twenty20 International series against England, Kohli will look to get back among the runs with a captain's innings or two in this Test.
The uneven bounce at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium could prove useful for the spinners, especially once the pitch starts to crack as the days progress. Ashwin, who incidentally happens to be the leading Test wicket-taker at this venue, went on to describe the track as one that allowed the bowler to be a little "more imaginative". From the captain's point of view, batting first would seem the prudent decision.
Even though the match will hardly have an impact in terms of rankings for either side, India will look to keep the winning momentum, which they then seek to extend into the Australia Tests as well. Bangladesh, on the other hand, understand the significance of playing Test cricket on Indian soil for the first time, although preventing that from getting into their heads is one that they will look forward to. India are strong favourites to win this one, but we all are aware of the kind of surprises that the Bangladeshis are capable of conjuring up every now and then.
India: Virat Kohli (C), KL Rahul, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Wrddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.
Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (c), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mahmudullah Riyad, Imrul Kayes, Shakib Al Hasan, Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Mominul Haque, Sabbir Rahman, Liton Das, Taskin Ahmed, Subashis Roy, Taijul Islam, Kamrul Islam Rabbi and Shafiul Islam.
Time: 09:30 IST
Updated Date: Feb 08, 2017 10:44 AM