Going into Friday’s first Test against Bangladesh, Rahul Dravid must feel like an airline official dealing with an overbooked flight. Everyone has a ticket, but there are only so many people you can accommodate.
There are eight batsmen in the squad, including big names like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. All can’t play the match. Especially after Dravid said on Thursday that the team’s brain cell would consider the option of playing five bowlers. Deciding who to leave out, therefore, could be harder for Dravid than leading the team to victory against an opponent that has triumphed in just one of the 44 Tests it has played.
“It’s tough but it will have to be done,” Dravid said after the team’s net practice on Thursday morning. “Considering the weather, the wicket and what we’re trying to achieve, we have the option of playing five bowlers. We have a basic idea and a broad plan. We need to tie up the specifics. But someone will be unlucky.”
Who that is or who they are will only be known on Friday. “We haven’t been able to have a meeting yet,” he said. When the tour party was picked, Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik were listed as openers. Asked if at least the starting two were decided, Dravid said, “We’d like to keep a little bit of a surprise element.”
Could that mean he would open? He has done it before. But while that would create space, it could defeat the purpose of bringing Jaffer and Karthik here.
The wicket at the Bir Sreshtha Shahid Ruhul Amin ground — also known as the Chittagong Divisional Stadium — is typical of the Indian subcontinent. It is as shorn of follicles as legs in a beauty contest. Batting will be easy, though the pitch will be faster and bouncier than the Dhaka track.
In the latter half of the match— if the contest goes the distance — it will turn. It is also hot and humid, though the weather bureau has forecast a 60 per cent chance of rain and a thunderstorm on Friday and Saturday. Spinners will have a role to play. So off-spinner Ramesh Powar could make his Test debut or left-arm spinner Rajesh Pawar could get his India breakthrough, with Anil Kumble being the main spinner. All three could play as well.
While anything could happen with regard to the Indian team’s composition, one thing is certain. India are the stronger team. Bangladesh, playing their last series under the coaching of the reportedly India-bound Dav Whatmore, have an unflattering record in Tests. What’s more — pun unintended — they haven’t played one since April 2006. Besides, many of their players, including captain Habibul Bashar, were flattened by viral fever in the run-up to the first Test.
Was it advantage India already, then?
“Yes,” said Dravid.
“Yes,” said Bashar.
“We have more experience as a Test team,” said Dravid. “But the game’s going to start zero-zero.”
“India are a better Test side,” said Bashar.
“They won the last series here. We would have been happy to have played a few Tests in these 12 months. But we’ve performed in ODIs. We hope to carry that confidence into the Tests.”
The good thing for Bangladesh, who’ve left out Syed Rasel and Tushar Imran of the 12, is the return to health of Mohammad Ashraful. Like Bashar, Ashraful was down with fever. They could also draw optimism from their performance against Australia in the series last year. Bangladesh had given the world champions a scare in the first Test. But that’s about all they can hope to do.
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