As the cricket caravan rolls into this port city of Bangladesh, one of the changes on view is the landscape. The sea-line is faintly visible from the media box and the blackish-green hills on the other side resemble a herd of elephants standing in the midst of a layer of smog. Also unmistakable is the smell of dried fish in the air.
The hosts begin their two-Test series here on Sunday at the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Sagarika, some 18 km from the heart of the city. The contest is tipped to be a mismatch, and the earnestness with which the India players practiced on Friday would have sent down shivers down their opponents. After the nets session, each batsman followed it up with a knocking session under the watchful eyes of coach Gary Kirsten.
Virender Sehwag was the first at the nets while skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni headed straight to the wicket and spoke at length to curator Safiul Islam Belal. The others went into a huddle and then broke up for a game of football.
The senior India players were quick to get into the groove. All of them, including Sachin Tendulkar, kicked the ball around, which in the Kirsten era is fast becoming the way to warm up. Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar followed Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag into the nets. Tendulkar was circumspect against Amit Mishra but slowly gained the upper hand.
V.V.S. Laxman got a feel of the conditions before going into the nets. For a while he kept the bottom hand behind him and kept flicking the ball with the left. Seeing him, Dhoni tried to copy the shot but soon gave up.
Once the covers were removed late in the afternoon, it revealed a wicket that appeared to be a batting beauty. According to Belal, the covers were put on to prevent the sun from beating down on the wicket and making it bone dry. The indication is that Bangladesh want a batting track that would last the tenure. For them, it is probably the only chance to make the match last till the end. And as Tamim Iqbal put it, a draw would be a great result for Bangladesh.