Russell Domingo: Filling Shakib's void tricky

Shakib Al Hasan's ban has been sobering for Bangladesh cricket, but the head coach feels his absence may galvanise the team's performance.

Bangladesh head coach Russell Domingo during a press conference in New Delhi.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Ahead of the first T20, the Bangladesh team trained earnestly amid the polluted air at the Arun Jaitley Stadium here on Friday. Wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim was seen practising sixes over midwicket, bracing up to play a key role in the T20 series without other stalwarts in Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan.

Given Shakib's stature in his country's cricket, his ban has been sobering for his team. Head coach Russell Domingo admitted as much when addressing the media in the afternoon.

“There have been a couple of testing days in Bangladesh in the last couple of weeks I suppose, but sometimes things like that can galvanise the team, get a team close together,” he remarked, while addressing the mediapersons.

“Everyone is a bit disappointed. I don't think I should be talking too much about it. I've been here for a month, and I've known Shakib for a month. The relationships the players have with him are a lot deeper than I've got, because I don't know him well. But the players speak very highly of him, or have a lot of respect for him, or admire the way he goes about his business, his performances. Now he's made a mistake, he's paying the price,” he said.

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The team will not just have to deal with it emotionally, they have to fill in for his absence on the field, too. For Shakib had been known to provide match-winning hands with bat and ball. It's a riddle that cannot be easily solved, admitted Domingo.

“It's obviously tricky because Shakib bats at No. 3, often opens the bowling or bowls first change. He bowls four overs every single game. He's one of our leading batters, so you've got to be sad – 'do I replace the batter, or replace the bowler?' Because it's very difficult; he plays both,” explained Domingo.

“There aren't too many players who provide you with both skills. So you might find yourself short in one department, and strengthening the other department. Depending on the conditions, if it's a flat wicket, you want to strengthen your bowling. If you think there's a little bit in for the wicket you might as well strengthen your batting. So, it would very much depend on the conditions. I don't think there's anyone earmarked who's specifically going to do Shakib's job. Everyone's going to try to contribute and fill up the numbers as best he possibly can,” he explained.

The Indian team will be without its leading star, too. Virat Kohli, the captain, has been rested for the series. Bangladesh's players would have liked to play against Kohli, said Domingo.

“[Shakib and Kohli] are two fantastic cricketers. You want to play against the best players in the world. If you ask all the Bangladesh players, [all of them] would love to test their skills against Virat Kohli. So, it's disappointing that he's not playing. But we fully understand his workload and the amount of games he plays. As a coach, you're glad he's not playing,” he said.

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Another major challenge for the team in this tour is the lack of scheduled match-practice before the day-night Test in Kolkata, beginning November 22. “It would have been great to have played a two-day warm-up game with a pink ball. All my time in South Africa, when we played with a pink ball in Adelaide, we had a two-day warm-up game with a pink ball leading into the Test match. And that was a bit of a concern with some of the players, that there's only three days between the first and the second Test match. So there's not a lot of time to prepare with it. I suppose it's the same for India. But that is a challenge that we're facing at the moment,” Domingo said.

Elaborating on the challenges in day-night Tests, he said: “It's a difficult ball to see, when you're batting, particularly in the phase between sunset and dark. That is a phase when batters struggle the most. I know guys really struggle against wrist spinners because it's difficult to see the seam. The seam's not as pronounced as it would be with a red ball and white seam; that's our experience we had the last time. The ball seems to flake a lot easier. Gets softer, and seems to break up a little bit more, and only does a little bit of shape or swing, for about 10 or 12 overs and then it seems to lose that I think. There are a lot of challenges to the pink ball the players haven't been facing yet.”

Both teams will have to quickly make transition from the white ball to the red ball, and then the pink ball. It's not a very difficult task for the current generation of players, according to Vikram Rathour, the India batting coach.

“If you ask players like us to play a T20 game, a one-day and a Test match the next day I would have found it impossible. But this generation is pretty good, so they make these adjustments very quickly. Pink ball – this is something interesting again. A day-night Test match – again something new. But I'm sure the way these people handle the pressure they should be fine with this,” Rathour said.

For the Indian team, the objective from the three-match T20 series will be to find the right team combinations ahead of the T20 World Cup. “Basically trying out different combinations. Like [the] last series we deliberately batted first in one of the games (the third T20 against South Africa in Bengaluru, on September 22), which we lost eventually. It's one area we need to work on. Bat better when we bat first in T20 games. That's one area we're looking to improve. Similarly, in the team combination as well, you want to try out a few combinations and see how it goes,” Rathour said.

Rathour expected Bangladesh to play well despite Shakib's absence. “Missing out on top players of course makes a difference to the team but T20 maybe is the only format where you don't miss players too much. It's such a short game. The amount of T20 cricket being played in Bangladesh, I'm sure they are pretty good as well,” he said.

“[In] today's day and age you expect all the international teams to compete well against you so we're hoping that Bangladesh will give their best and we're looking to do our best and prepare for the T20 World Cup. That's the main mindset of the team at the moment; we're looking for all the options we have for the World Cup. We're taking it as our preparation for that,” he added.