Not so long ago, selection headaches for India were of the pleasant variety. An assembly line of made-to-order cricketers meant that it could form more than one winning team, with selectors shoehorning the deserving lot like how an usher would at a crowded Broadway theatre.
A month and a half ago, when Hanuma Vihari was unceremoniously dropped for the Test series in Bangladesh, it was this image that came to mind. Chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma said that “the middle-order was packed and sometimes you miss out”.
But come Wednesday at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, where the first of two Tests will begin, it will be an injury-ravaged side, missing as many as four first-choice players in Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, that will take the field.
It is still a formidable line-up. No team that has KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and R. Ashwin in its roster is to be trifled with. But the contests come at a troubled time for Indian cricket.
The excitement and novelty of Rohit taking over as full-time skipper across formats, resembling the early stages of a heady romance, have all but dissipated. The dispiriting loss to England in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup and the 1-2 ODI series loss to Bangladesh have brought a feeling of gloom and doom.
The red-ball squad’s task is thus two-fold – to first clear the fog that has set over the team and then record a series win that can keep the World Test Championship dream alive.
In this quest, Kohli’s return to form, first in T20Is and then ODIs, is welcome news. The former India captain’s last century in whites came against Bangladesh just over three years ago, across the border in Kolkata in a pink-ball Test. To end the drought now would be timely.
Pant, who has looked unsettled of late, will be keenly watched. His batting returns have been meagre, and he sat out the ODI series against Bangladesh without a clear-cut reason. Cheteshwar Pujara, whose career was seemingly over, has now taken over vice-captaincy duties from the southpaw.
But Test cricket is Pant’s safe space – 488 runs in his last six Test innings – and a return will feel like oxygen.
It remains to be seen how India builds its bowling arsenal on what Bangladesh’s leading quick Taskin Ahmed termed a “batting paradise”.
Left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat, finally rewarded for his excellent domestic form, can add to the maiden Test cap he earned way back in December 2010.
Bangladesh too will be looking to set a few records straight. It has never tasted victory in a Test against India, anywhere. In 2022, it has won just one of its eight Test matches, losing even the home series against Sri Lanka in May. It will be hobbled by the absence of seasoned batter Tamim Iqbal (groin injury) and Taskin (lack of match fitness).
It will be up to the likes of skipper Shakib Al Hasan, who is nursing a slight side strain, and Litton Das to carry the team. The rise of wicketkeeper-batter Zakir Hasan, whose 173-run knock against India-A earned him the maiden Test call-up, and the recent exploits of all-rounder Mehidy Hasan Miraz will give the home team confidence.
Umesh to lead pace attack
In the absence of frontline pacers Bumrah and Shami, India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said that Umesh Yadav will be spearheading the attack in the first Test against Bangladesh.
“Umesh is a very experienced bowler and we all know what he brings to the table,” said Mhambrey on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, he hasn’t got too many opportunities [because] of the team balance.
“The team management has spoken to him [as to] why we have taken certain decisions and we have clarity. If you look at it, he becomes a spearhead for us now. One thing is they are all playing [cricket]. [Mohammed] Siraj has played, Umesh has and [Navdeep] Saini played in the A series that recently concluded. Bumrah and Shami will definitely be missed, but we also look at this as an opportunity for others to perform.
Russell Domingo, the Bangladesh head coach, stated that his team will aim to be competitive through the length of the Test.
“In terms of results, we haven’t been good,” the South African said. “But in terms of the competitive nature, there have been big improvements. We are up against a really good Indian side. So my expectation is to be competitive and try and get the games to the fifth day and find a win.”
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