Eye on India: 16 years after their historic first Test, Bangladesh finally cross the border to take on India

This coming week in Hyderabad, fully 16 years after their first dip in five-day waters, Bangladesh will play their first Test in India.

Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim bats at nets during a practice session on the eve of the only Test match between India and Bangladesh at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on February 3, 2017. India will play one Test match against Bangladesh from 9-13 February 2017. Noah Seelam / AFP
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It truly was the worst of times. In March 2000, Delhi Police eavesdropped on Hansie Cronje speaking to an Indian bookmaker.

After the King Commission hearings in Cape Town in June, Cronje – whose win-loss ratio in one-day international (ODI) cricket is still second only to Ricky Ponting among those that led in more than 100 matches – was banned for life. He would die in a plane crash two years later.

Mohammed Azharuddin, who had played his 99th Test against Cronje’s team earlier in the year, was banned in December for his alleged involvement in the worst scandal that cricket had ever had to deal with.

A few weeks before he learnt of his fate and with the game’s credibility being questioned, India had journeyed across their eastern border to be part of Bangladesh’s Test baptism.

Fast-tracking them to cricket’s high table was Jagmohan Dalmiya’s idea. His critics called it a cynical ploy to ensure one extra vote at ICC meetings.

Those supporting him called him a visionary who had recognised the passion for the sport in a country whose population was greater than Pakistan’s.

Bangladesh did not disgrace themselves. With Aminul Islam, evocatively nicknamed “Bulbul”, making 145 and Habibul Bashar 71, Bangladesh batted five sessions for 400.


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They then reduced India to 236 for six before Sunil Joshi’s 92 gave the visitors a lead of 29. Naimur Rahman, the captain, led the way, taking six wickets with his tidy off-spin.

After that, reality bit. Bangladesh were skittled out for 91, and India knocked off the runs before stumps on the fourth evening.

For much of the next decade and beyond, Bangladesh struggled to replicate the promise of that first Test. Given that they did not even have a proper first-class structure in place when granted Test status, that should have surprised no one.

In those days, Indian players were hugely popular across the border. Now, with political relations having gone south and Bangladesh becoming competitive in their own conditions, the rivalry has assumed the sort of nasty edge once reserved for India-Pakistan matches.

Bangladesh’s bilateral ODI series win over India in 2015 was the cause for much jubilation, and chastened Indian fans had to wait till the World Twenty20 last year for their riposte.

With just two needed from three balls to eject the hosts from their own party, Bangladesh lost their cool. MS Dhoni, in particular, kept his, and India sneaked home by a run.

This coming week in Hyderabad, fully 16 years after their first dip in five-day waters, Bangladesh will play their first Test in India.

Mushfiqur Rahim, the captain, whose cross-batted heave set in motion that dramatic T20 collapse, insisted that it was no big deal.

“I don’t believe that this is a historic Test,” he said. “We want to tell world cricket what we can do in India.

“I don’t think about how many years later we are going to play in India. We want to play in such a way that India invites again and again. This to me is just another Test match.”

India have not lost a Test since August 2015, and have thrashed South Africa (3-0), New Zealand (3-0) and England (4-0) at home since Virat Kohli was appointed Test captain.

But for once, they will be facing spin bowlers – Shakib Al Hasan and Mehedi Hasan – nearly as skilful as Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and a batting line-up that posted 595 in New Zealand, and then lost, not so long ago.

India’s pace bowlers, especially if Mohammed Shami is fit, could be the difference between the two sides, but neither Kohli nor Anil Kumble, the coach, will be taking their opponents lightly.

After years of being given the cold shoulder by Big Brother, Bangladesh have a point to prove, no matter what Mushfiqur might say.

Indian badminton scene in good health

In a country utterly in thrall to cricket and those that play it, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when other sportspersons exerted a similar kind of influence on young children.

In the 1980s, at a time when a famous World Cup victory (1983) gave cricket wings, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev were the biggest sporting heroes. But there was also Mohammed Shahid with his hockey-stick wizardry and Prakash Padukone with his badminton racket.

Long before “Kapil’s Devils” upset the mighty West Indies, Padukone had won the All England title, the first Indian to do so.

That year, 1980, he was also ranked No 1 in the world. During that decade, Padukone and Syed Modi were the main repositories of Indian hopes at international events. Nets were strung up across the country, even between adjacent coconut trees, and millions hit shuttles back and forth.

But after Modi was murdered in 1988, the game’s popularity suffered. It was not until Pullela Gopichand emulated Padukone by winning the All England in 2001 that Indian badminton experienced another surge.

These days, it competes with cricket for back-page space. PV Sindhu, who won silver in the women’s singles at the Rio Olympics, is now ranked sixth in the world. Saina Nehwal, whose bronze in London (2012) inspired a generation of girls, is at No 9 after returning from knee surgery.

Ajay Jayaram is the top-ranked male at No 18, though the man to watch for in the long term is Srikanth Kidambi, who became the first Indian to win a Super Series event when he beat Lin Dan in the final of the 2014 China Open.

Despite reaching the last eight in Rio – Lin just about outlasted him in three sets – Kidambi has slipped to No 21 in the rankings after going as high as No 3 in June 2015.

But with HS Prannoy (24), Sameer Verma (25), Sai Praneeth (32) and Sourabh Verma (41) also in the top 50, the strength in depth is impressive. Lakshya Sen is the world’s highest-ranked junior.

Gopichand has transitioned seamlessly from elite player to coach-mentor, and others like Vimal Kumar (national champion in 1988 and ’89) are also doing a sterling job of guiding the next generation.

After their Olympic achievements, the focus, justifiably, is on the two leading ladies, but the day may not be far off when one of the men emulates what Padukone and Gopichand did all those years ago.

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