It may not be easy going for India

The Indian skipper Rahul Dravid knows that the present Bangladesh team, under the captaincy of Habibul Bashar (below), is no push over.-Pics: AP The Indian skipper Rahul Dravid knows that the present Bangladesh team, under the captaincy of Habibul Bashar (below), is no push over.

No more does Bangladesh make up the numbers. The sight of Tamim Iqbal stepping out and clouting Zaheer Khan at Port of Spain in the World Cup match is a strong statement on the daring approach that the team has adopted. The Indians will have to watch out when they take on the young force, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Roquibul Hasan, 54, lives in Dhaka and is an unsung cricketer from the pre-liberation days. He was East Pakistan's most famous role model then but never got to play Test cricket. His name would figure in the Pakistan 14 but he would never find a place in the XI. On the eve of a Test in the then Dacca, he was assured of his debut, but was left out on the morning of the match.

For years, Roquibul lived in hope of seeing his nation produce quality cricketers. The Test status and a respectable debut in November 2000 brought tears to his eyes. "I knew we were good," he had said. Bangladesh scored 400 in its first Test innings and Aminul Islam an epic 145. The Indian attack comprised Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Sunil Joshi and Murali Kartik. Sachin Tendulkar too rolled his arm over.

The ever-reliable Anil Kumble was missing from action due to a shoulder surgery. India won the match but Bangladesh gave it a scare; at one point India needed a knock of 92 from Joshi to save the embarrassment of conceding the lead.

On its next tour in 2004, India won both the Tests by an innings margin. There was consolation for the home team when Mohammed Ashraful was named Man of the Match in the second Test for his unbeaten 158, and this time the Indian attack included Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

That day Roquibul was immensely pleased. A little later, he saw signs of improvement when Bangladesh beat India in a one-day international at Dhaka. It was a red letter day in Bangladesh cricket even though it had beaten Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup and did score a win over Australia too in the 2005 NatWest Trophy.

The Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium symbolises the modernisation of the game's infrastructure in a country which takes great pride in its noble laureate, Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered micro-credit lending schemes for the poor, especially women.

This bunch of charged up Bangladesh youngsters has embarked on a similar mission — obliterating cricketing poverty.

Their entry into the Super Eight in the World Cup, at the cost of `mighty' India, was a step in that direction. The nation went delirious and Roquibul lived his dream.

Bangladesh has indeed arrived after a long journey. A win for Bangladesh does not create suspicions of match-fixing anymore.

Cricket is a national craze in Bangladesh. From the times when the likes of Wasim Akram, Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Raman Lamba played league cricket in Dhaka, the cricket fans have supported the game in a big way. The International Cricket Council was pleasantly surprised to see a packed house for every match of the mini World Cup in 1998. Bangladesh was not even participating in the tournament, that was restricted to Test-playing nations.

A tour to Bangladesh is low priority for most teams. Not for cricketing reasons. "The ambience is missing," has been the common complaint. But not for Tendulkar, rested against his wishes for the coming one-day series. If the maestro had not liked the place, he would not have worked towards achieving his career-best in Tests at Dhaka.

Prior to that knock in late 2004, Tendulkar had ushered in the new year with a monumental show against Australia at Sydney, compiling an unbeaten 241, a career-best innings in testing conditions. Many batsmen would have been tempted to protect that landmark but not Tendulkar. He chose to improve upon that innings and came up with an unbeaten 248 against Bangladesh.

A career-best against Australia would surely have meant more than a career-best against the lowly Bangladesh. By ignoring such thoughts, Tendulkar only underlined his admiration for the progress made by Bangladesh. He may or may not better his best effort, but the maestro would not mind even if he ends his Test career with the 248 not out against Bangladesh as his highest individual score.

Following the debacle in the World Cup, the pressure is now on India to play to its potential, at least against an opposition that is still looking at methods for improving. The improved infrastructure has come as a boost to the game and the discovery of talent like Tamim Iqbal (18), Saqibul Hasan (20), Aftab Ahmed (21), Farhad Reza (20), Shahriar Nafees (21), Mohammad Ashraful (22), Mushfiqur Rehman (27) and Mashrafe Bin Mortaza (23) augurs well for the team.

These youngsters are products of a system that has come of age with guidance of former captains like Roquibul Hasan, Khaled Mahmud, Akram Khan and Athar Ali Khan. Bangladesh does not make tall claims but its attempts to improve are an honest exercise with the administration engaged in giving the best of facilities to these young and ambitious players who have grown up idolising stars from the sub-continent.

Now these youngsters are rubbing shoulders with their heroes and sometimes even outsmarting them. This has definitely enriched the game, for cricket needs new stars, especially from teams like Bangladesh. India has picked its best Test side while making some experiments in the one-day team under the directions of the Board. Dinesh Mongia has made a comeback even though it must be said that he had not been given a fair deal in the first place. The absence of Harbhajan Singh from the Test attack is balanced by the presence of Anil Kumble even as left-armer Rajesh Pawar finds a place at the expense of Murali Kartik, who had been excluded on account of injury and not form.

Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid head the list, which has just one specialist opener in Wasim Jaffer, since Virender Sehwag has been left out of the Tests. The resistance from Bangladesh will be greater this time and much would depend on the roles the two stalwarts, Habibul Bashar (42 Tests and 109 ODIs) and Mohammad Rafique (26 Tests and 121 ODIs), play.

No more does Bangladesh make up the numbers. The sight of Tamim Iqbal stepping out and clouting Zaheer Khan at Port of Spain in the World Cup match is a strong statement on the daring approach that the team has adopted. The Indians will have to watch out when they take on the young force that symbolises the new and brave Bangladesh, just as Roquibul had visualised three decades ago.

The teams For ODIs:

Rahul Dravid (captain), Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Manoj Tiwary, S. Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Rudra Pratap Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar and Dinesh Mongia.

For Tests:

Rahul Dravid (captain), Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, M. S. Dhoni, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh , Dinesh Karthik, S. Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, V. R. V. Singh, Munaf Patel, Anil Kumble, R. Powar and Rajesh Pawar.

The fixtures

May 10: First ODI, Sher-e- Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur.

May 12: Second ODI, Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur.

May 15: Third ODI, Bir Shrestha Shahid Ruhul Amin Stadium, Chittagong.

May 18 to 22: First Test: Bir Shrestha Shahid Ruhul Amin Stadium, Chittagong.

May 25 to 29: Second Test: Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur.