It’s been more than seven years since India hosted a sub-continent side in a Test match. The last time that happened, a perfectly potent spin duet of Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath was pulverized into submission by the unforgiving blade of Virender Sehwag at the Brabourne Stadium. As it turned out, by virtue of that win India climbed atop the ICC Test Rankings for the first time ever.
Much water has flown under that bridge since, as eager Bangladesh come visiting for their first Test on Indian soil since receiving the Test status 17 years ago. That was MS Dhoni’s team at its zenith.
It would soon see lowly lows, an emotional exodus of legends and more overseas blues before charting its way back to the top following a change of guard. Only Murali Vijay remains from the playing XI that took on Sri Lanka in November 2009.
India, now under Virat Kohli, are purring along like a high-spec engine of a finely-engineered car. Words like ‘invincibles’ have frequent Virat Kohli’s press conferences but the Indian captain has never been drawn into such claims.
What he does know is that his team – yes it is HIS team now – is riding an 18-game unbeaten streak, India’s longest in Test cricket. A win percentage of 77 during this run underscores this dominance, to which even seasoned sides like New Zealand and England have succumbed to. Australia wait around the corner, preparing for another subcontinental trial by spin in Dubai. But they’ll have to wait their turn to merit Kohli’s attention.
For now, Kohli has his eyes only on Bangladesh and the one-off history-making Test in Hyderabad. Make no mistake, India are overwhelming favourites to win and extend this unbeaten streak. There’s a well-oiled plan that’s been set in motion. The top-order scores runs, the middle-order scores runs and just to make sure, the tail adds some more. And then once the dust settles, literally and figuratively, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja live up to their billing as the best spin-bowling duo going around.
Eighteen months ago, this game may have served as a mere finger flexing, transitional exercise after a brief segue into limited-overs format for Ashwin and Jadeja ahead of the Australian challenge. But not anymore. This new Bangladesh believes. This new Bangladesh remembers. What started as an exuberant white-ball revolution under Mashrafe Mortaza now seeks acceptance and newer challenges in the grand old format.
Nothing emphasises this evolution more than the emergence of Mehedi Hasan, who in eight months in 2016, went from leading the U-19 side to a World Cup semifinal all the way to befuddling England in an epic Test match victory.
That win in Dhaka, and even heroic defeats in Chittagong and against New Zealand in Wellington, add to Bangladesh’s sheen.
And in ‘Big Brother’ India, Mushfiqur Rahim & Co. face a familiar adversary. The Indian team – for so long their scourge now also serve as a reminder of some of their greatest on-field cricketing moments. Rahim may have downplayed this one-off Test as “just another game” but how he would love to overwrite that premature celebration in Bengaluru by leading his team to a historic Test victory.
How they would all love to take that bluster out of Kohli for one Test.
We will find out if Rahim’s men are ready to emulate their recent white-ball feats under Mortaza. They’ll certainly have cricketing reason to believe so. Because unlike New Zealand or England before them, they can engage India in a spin shoot-out, should it come to that. The more onerous task will be to out-bat India on a bat-big-bat-once surface.
India went about their close-in catching with great seriousness on the eve of their clash. All those players expect to be summoned into action for Ashwin and Jadeja. But if Rahim and Shakib can guts out 19 blows to the body on a greenish New Zealand track, rest assured they’ll have the fortitude to resist a couple of extra chirpy close-in fielders.
When: India vs Bangladesh, one-off Test, starts February 9, 2017 – 09:30 IST; 04:00 GMT
Where: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad
What to expect: Warm and Sunny forecast for all five days. According to the curator, “the pitch should play similar to how it did in India’s last two games here”. Both of India’s two previous games at the venue have resulted in innings victories with Jadeja and Ashwin enjoying great success in the second innings.
Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane returns after missing two Tests due to injury and, according to Kohli, will slot right back in at No. 5. Jayant Yadav, too, has sufficiently recovered from his hamstring injury but including him as a third spinner will mean having to leave out Karun Nair immediately after the Karnataka batsman scored a triple hundred. India have called up Abhinav Mukund and Kuldeep Yadav into the squad but they are unlikely to be instated into the starting eleven just yet. With no discernible movement expected for the seamers, India will rely on the reverse swing abilities of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma while Hardik Pandya continues to wait for his Test debut.
Probable XI: Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma
Regular opener Imrul Kayes picked up a thigh injury during the team’s two-day warm-up game that ruled him out of the contest. So Bangladesh will use Soumya Sarkar at the top once more. Captain Mushfiqur Rahim has recovered from his hand injury and should take back the gloves and the captaincy after missing the Christchurch Test although Liton Das provides keeping cover. The visitors are likely to field an extra spinner in Taijul Islam alongside Mehedi and Shakib Al Hasan while Taskin Ahmed should share seam-bowling duties with Kamrul Islam Rabbi.
Probable XI: Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mominul Haque, Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim (c&wk), Sabbir Rahman, Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Taskin Ahmed, Taijul Islam, Kamrul Islam Rabbi/Shafiul Islam
Did you know?
-Bangladesh have lost their inaugural Test in all the host countries except West Indies.
-Ashwin has 248 wickets from 44 Tests. If he picks up two wickets in this game, he’ll be the fastest to 250 wickets in Test history. Dennis Lillee holds the record at present. He got to the feat in 48 Tests.
-Sans Bangladesh, Kohli has scored a Test century against ever opposition he has played. He scored 14 in Mirpur in 2015 in the lone innings he’s played against them.
What they said:
“The mindset remains the same, you prepare the same way, you go and follow the same plans in the middle. The opposition doesn’t matter.” – Kohli reiterated that India’s approach won’t change for the Bangladesh clash.
“Cricket is not a game about one man or two men. When you are playing the No.1 Test side, you have to be very specific about what we want to do. The bowling and the batting unit will have to click together.” – Rahim doesn’t want to burden only his spinners with the task of stifling India’s powerful batting lineup.