Injury-ravaged India can still be a handful for Bangladesh

Not so long ago India’s selection headaches 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 the way an usher would at a crowded Broadway theatre.

When Hanuma Vihari was dropped for the Bangladesh Test series, it was this image that came to mind. Chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma said “the middle-order was packed and sometimes you miss out.”

But on 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, Mohd. Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, that will take the field.

It is still a formidable line-up. No team that has K.L. Rahul, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and R. Ashwin 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 have all but dissipated. The dispiriting loss to England in the T20 World Cup semifinals and the 1-2 ODI series loss to Bangladesh have brought a feeling of gloom.

The squad’s task is hence two-fold: clear the fog that has set over the team and record a series win that can keep the World Test Championship dream alive.

Kohli’s form

Kohli’s return to form — in the shorter formats — is welcome news. The former India captain’s last century in whites came against Bangladesh just over three years ago in Kolkata in a pink-ball Test. Ending 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 as vice-captain 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 quickie 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.

Dismal record

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 won just one of its eight Tests, 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.

The teams (from):

India: K.L. Rahul (Capt.), Cheteshwar Pujara (Vice-Capt.), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, K.S. Bharat, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Mohd. Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Navdeep Saini, Saurabh Kumar and Jaydev Unadkat.

Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan (Capt.), Mahmudul Hasan Joy, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque, Yasir Ali, Mushfiqur Rahim, Litton Das, Nurul Hasan, Mehidy Hassan Miraz, Taijul Islam, Khaled Ahmed, Ebadot Hossain, Shoriful Islam, Zakir Hasan, Rejaur Rahman Raja and Anamul Haque.

Umpires: Michael Gough and S.I.S. Saikat; TV Umpire: Chris Brown; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Match starts at 9 a.m. IST.

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