During the South Africa series, the promotional campaign for Bangladesh’s visit to India was played up by the broadcaster as a battle between the world’s premier batsman (Virat Kohli) and all-rounder (Shakib Al Hasan). As fate would have it, when the action kicks off in Delhi on Sunday, neither player will be involved.
Kohli has earned his rest for the three-match T20I series but Bangladesh were dealt a massive blow in the form of a two-year ban (12 months suspended) for not reporting approaches from a bookie. That was preceded by the drama of a player revolt and succeeded by the controversy surrounding hosting a match in New Delhi, where pollution is severe this time of the year.
So, it is fair to say, when the toss happens at the newly-christened Arun Jaitley Stadium on Sunday, it would feel like the focus can finally move to the actual cricket.
For India, a few youngsters on the fringes will line up for another T20 World Cup audition while KL Rahul would be hoping for a chance to force their back into the reckoning.
Under a cloud
Questions have been raised over the rationale behind hosting the match in Delhi at a time when the national capital is battling post-Diwali air pollution but the BCCI ruled out shifting the tie at the last minute due to logistic issues.
The visitors are not complaining either but pollution, the resultant health concerns and the ban on arguably the greatest cricketer produced by the country just before the tour has definitely hogged the limelight in the build-up to the three-match series.
Rohit Sharma, the stand-in captain, also played down the issue of pollution before the match but the logic of putting 22 players on the field in hazardous conditions (even if for a little over three hours) is difficult to understand. Perhaps, there simply wasn’t enough time for the Sourav Ganguly-led BCCI team to reschedule this but why an international was awarded to Delhi in a week after Diwali is something very few can fathom.
On the field, the teams must be gunning to battle it out. It will be an opportunity for Mumbai all-rounder Shivam Dube, his statemate Shardul Thakur and Rajasthan’s Deepak Chahar to show what they bring to the table.
Dube is all but guaranteed to make his international debut after impressing with his power-hitting skills for Mumbai and India ‘A’, coupled with the long-term injury to Hardik Pandya. If Dube is handed his much-awaited India debut, he will have to be placed up in the batting order, considering his big-hitting ability.
Dube’s selection in the playing XI is likely to rule out both Manish Pandey and Sanju Samson because the remaining slots are likely to be taken by Yuzvendra Chahal, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar and Washington Sundar.
At the top, Sharma is in imperious run-scoring form and he would look to carry it over into the shortest format. But his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan is yet to find that big knock after making a comeback to white-ball cricket from a thumb injury that had cut short his 50-over World Cup in England. The Delhi left-hander had scores of 36 and 40 during the South Africa series and struggled to find runs during the recently-concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he managed just one half-century in seven matches.
Among others, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Krunal Pandya and local boy Rishabh Pant look certainties in the middle order.
There are still around more than a dozen matches that India will play before next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia but the Indian team management has said that it would prefer to identify the core of the team without much tinkering.
Considering the same, it is time for these youngsters, including spin all-rounder Washington Sundar, to make a case for themselves. Like Dhawan, it’s also an opportunity for leg-spinner Chahal to earn back his place in the Indian side.
Getting limited opportunities this year has put brakes on his career which at one time soared in company of Kuldeep Yadav.
If Chahal gets the nod for the low-slow surface in Delhi, an off-spinner in Washington Sundar will be a more useful second option than fielding leg spinner Rahul Chahar. Sundar’s superior batting ability gives him an edge. Krunal Pandya should retain his place, especially in the absence of Ravindra Jadeja and the Baroda captain will have another chance to book a permanent berth in the lineup.
For India, it’s also a chance to work out a strategy to do well when it bats first. Batting coach Vikram Rathour said the management has identified this as an issue since if the top order fails, the middle order does not inspire much confidence. The former India opener said that winning matches while batting first is one area the team needs to improve on.
“In the last series, we deliberately batted first in one game which we lost. That’s one area we need to work on. We need to bat better when we bat first. We chase pretty well,” explained Rathour.
Bangladesh have emerged as a potent Asian cricketing force, replacing struggling Sri Lanka in that position, but the neighbouring side has not been in the best of form, of late. Afghanistan trumped them for a historic Test win in Chittagong in September, though Bangladesh did a decent job in the following T20 tri-series, winning three of the four matches they played but not before losing a T20 to the Rashid Khan-led side.
Bangladesh would still present a good challenge, especially with their strong batting line up which is led by skipper Mahmudullah Riyad. But they will definitely miss charismatic skipper Shakib, as well as senior opener Tamim Iqbal.
In Shakib’s absence, the onus will also be on Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim and Soumya Sarkar (along with their stand-in captain) to deliver the goods.
India have never lost a T20I against Bangladesh (in eight previous meetings). The only other meeting between the two sides in India was a nail-biter in Bengaluru during the 2016 World T20. If the matches in this series are half as good as that thriller, we should be in for a good contest.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), Khaleel Ahmed, Yuzvendra Chahal, Deepak Chahar, Rahul Chahar, Shikhar Dhawan, Shivam Dube, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Krunal Pandya, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur.
Bangladesh: Mahmudullah Riyad (C), Taijul Islam, Mohammad Mithun, Liton Kumer Das, Soumya Sarker, Naim Sheikh, Mushfiqur Rahhim, Afif Hossain, Mosaddek Hossain Saikat, Aminul Islam Biplob, Arafat Sunny, Abu Hider, Al-Amin Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman and Shafiul Islam.
Match starts at 7pm IST.