There is something about Bangladesh as a neutral venue that makes India come back again and again. And they have done well too, through the turn of the century till even last year when India reached the World T20 final. In Test cricket, however, India act pricey. Wednesday’s Fatullah Test would be only the eighth time India play Bangladesh in whites, that too after a gap of five years. It doesn’t fail to be special, though.
In their inaugural Test 15 years ago, a packed Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka had witnessed the debut of Sourav Ganguly as the India captain. Today, Virat Kohli starts the same journey in a country still raving about his 183 that made chasing Pakistan’s 329 look like child’s play three years back.
There is no denying Kohli is in great form. And opposition captain Mushfiqur Rahim feels Kohli is a more dangerous batsman when he is leading. But that inference was drawn from the stop-gap situations in the past when Kohli was asked to lead in MS Dhoni’s absence in Australia.
From Wednesday, Kohli is India’s permanent Test captain. And there lies the challenge of trying to bring a balance between leading a talented team and being equally good with the bat.
When they got full-time Test captaincy, Ganguly was 28, Rahul Dravid was 32 and Dhoni was 27. Kohli is 26. Only Sachin Tendulkar was younger when he was handed Test leadership. And the world knows how that had messed with his batting.
Kohli though speaks like a man who knows what lies in front of him. “I feel I have become more responsible as a batsman when I’m leading the team. I believe in doing something first before asking someone to do it. If I’m not able to bat in a mature way then I can’t say something with authority to the other members of the team,” he said.
While that’s the approach Kohli would take towards his batting, the big question is how he will manage his resources in his first Test as a cricketer against Bangladesh.
According to Kohli, the Fatullah track is ‘nice and hard’, meaning bowlers would have to toil to get wickets. He hinted at picking five bowlers. “Out of our batting unit only two or three need to get us to that score of 500. I certainly believe in giving our team that score to take wickets and that we can do by picking five bowlers. I’m a big fan of the 6+5 (6 batsmen, 5 bowlers) combination,” he said.
For the plan to work, Kohli would have to believe Cheteshwar Pujara, returning from a county stint after being dropped, would contribute heavily. Among the bowlers, he has to equally back Ishant Sharma to come good if he plays. Then there is the case of handling Harbhajan Singh’s comeback. Beyond all this is the need to be calm against an aggressive team that tends to punch above its weight regularly against India. That would be a nice way to start a career as India captain.
Pitch leaves hosts surprised, spin to play a role
From a distance, it looked as if Bangladesh skipper Mushfiqur Rahim was attempting to crawl on the pitch. Actually, he was trying to assess whether the mowed grass will bind the pitch. Later, Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha said the layer of grass made it difficult to predict how the wicket would behave.
“I have never seen a pitch like this before,” Hathurusingha said at the press conference on Tuesday. “We have to take the heat into account as well. The wicket is not going to be a fast bowler’s paradise, that’s what I can tell you,” the former Sri Lanka batsman said.
The last time Fatullah hosted a Test was in 2006 against Australia when Bangladesh made merry first up against a bowling line-up comprising Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill. The pitch has been relaid, but its nature isn’t likely to change. “Whether the grass will hold for five days or how much it will impact the game is something we have to find out. Spinners will have advantage from the first day, and the batsmen are also likely to be at ease here,” said Rahim.
Both teams will play two specialist spinners but Bangladesh are better placed due to the presence of an all-round option in Shakib Al Hasan. Apart from Shakib, the hosts have spin options in Jubair Hossain (leg-break), Taijul Islam (left-arm spin) and Shuvagata Hom (off-break). In all likelihood, Litton Das would keep wicket as Rahim, who has a finger injury, might play purely as a batsman. In that scenario, two spinners and Shakib should suffice.
India too are planning to play five bowlers. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma are likely to be the first-choice pacers, India will need to figure out whether they should go for two off-spinners in Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin and then choose between leg-spinner Karn Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Given that Bangladesh batsmen are good against spin, playing a third tweaker could prove costly. But with pacers likely to get tired easily on a flat pitch, it’s an option worth exploring for India.