From the captains to temporary coach Ravi Shastri, the onus is on key members to come good as Bangladesh host India. Osman Samiuddin lists five talking points.
For so long Indian cricket has not had to think about a new captain. In an age when sides pick different captains for each format India were blessed to have one so (mostly) adept across all forms. Wednesday, India begin the post-MS Dhoni era, or, more accurately, they step into the age of Kohli.
India’s best batsman for some time, Kohli, a genuine superstar, will now be their leader.
It is an exciting prospect but will not be easy. Dhoni is India’s most successful Test captain though the sheen has been taken off by overseas shellackings. From limited evidence, Kohli will lead with the same aggression his persona thrives on: in-your-face, relentless, always looking to win. Maintaining his exemplary batting standards will be the first task.
Bangladesh’s recent progress has been one of cricket’s more overlooked stories, lost in the permanent glow of the rise of Ireland and Afghanistan.
But improve they have done, most notably in their run to the World Cup quarter-finals this year.
The exclamation mark to the rise was their dismantling of Pakistan in the limited-overs leg of their tour in April.
The home side eventually lost the second Test, but they saved the first in remarkable fashion. There is a newly established confidence and pep.
The batting, especially, is in stellar form and though the fast bowling struggled against Pakistan, it is in that department that the most heartening strides have been made.
The return of ‘Bhaji’
Harbhajan Singh last played a Test in 2013. In truth, his decline had begun in 2011 when a finger injury cut short his involvement on the disastrous tour to England.
His return for this one-off Test was, to put it mildly, surprising. It was not that it had been so long, it was that last season he hardly played long-form cricket: just three middling Ranji Trophy games.
He was not picked as the second spinner on his IPL form, in which he took 16 wickets and helped Mumbai Indians to the title. Sandeep Patil, the chief selector, said the presence of many left-handers in Bangladesh’s line-up necessitated Singh’s recall. It does not say much for India’s off-spinning stocks.
It is difficult enough being a Test wicketkeeper, but to lump the responsibility of being one of your side’s best batsmen is to be doubly burdened.
To be asked to lead as well seems too much. But it is the adept handling of all three roles to the obvious detriment of none that has made Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim such an impressive young man, as well as a cricketer.
He averages nearly 40 with the bat in the 21 Tests he has captained and kept in, well above his career average.
The longer format eases that triple burden; in ODIs, since leaving the captaincy, his batting average has shot up.
A finger injury means he may not keep in the one-off Test against India. That may disrupt a well-settled and formidable batting order, though it may also free Rahim to even greater heights.
Missing the coach
The Dhoni era is over, but so, too, is that of the man with whom he forged such an enigmatic partnership. Duncan Fletcher’s time as India coach has been strange, with definite gains but also bewildering regressions. That he has barely uttered a public word during his stint has not helped.
But India have been in no hurry to announce a successor. For this tour they have extended Ravi Shastri’s involvement as a team director, saddling him with a group of assistant coaches. The players have responded to Shastri’s presence and Kohli, in particular, has loved having him around.
Shastri is interested in a longer-term role, which will make India’s search for a coach after this series interesting.
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