India’s tour of Bangladesh, comprising of a solitary Test match and three One-Day Internationals (ODIs), began on the 10th of June, in Fatullah. It turned out to be a nightmarish tour for the visitors, with the Fatullah Test ending in a draw, purely down to the inclement weather allowing only 184.2 overs of cricket to be played across 5 days, and then being beaten comfortably in the 3-match ODI series, even though the final scoreline was only 2-1 and India won the last game by 77 runs.
Touring Bangladesh right after the culmination of the Indian cricket season looked a bit irrational. The 2011 World Cup winners had just completed a grueling three-month period between February and May, trying to defend their title in Australia first and upon returning to the country in late March, quickly joining up with their respective Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, for the season beginning in the second week of April.
However, this overseas assignment was already part of the 2011-20 Future Tours Program (FTP) that was designed to have the full members, which India and Bangladesh are, of International Cricket Council (ICC) play each other at home and away at least on one occasion during a 10-year period. This year’s tour was originally scheduled to have two Tests and three one-dayers, but due to India’s jam-packed schedule, there was space for only one Test.
For a series that was thought to be a walk in the park for the 2015 ICC World Cup semifinalists, the Indian selection committee led by Sandip Patil, picked full-strength squads for the solitary Test and three ODIs, with Virat Kohli permanently taking over the Indian Test captaincy mantle and Dhoni continuing as the skipper of the limited-overs’ side.
The Indian Test squad for Bangladesh tour did not have wholesale changes from the one that was picked for the tour of Australia late last year. Harbhajan Singh replaced Ravindra Jadeja, who did not feature in any of the four Tests against Australia, while Mohammed Shami was left out because of a knee injury he picked up during India’s World Cup campaign, and there was no replacement named in his absence.
India’s ODI squad also had a solitary change from their World Cup squad, with Dhawal Kulkarni coming in place of the injured Shami.
Though this was a low profile series, there was a sense of anticipation because of Kohli, prominent for his aggressive persona, assuming duties as Team India’s permanent Test captain. Dhoni, who has been a talismanic figure in Indian cricket since becoming the captain of the national T20 side in 2007, hasn’t thrived as a Test captain, under whom India managed only a solitary victory in 19 overseas Tests, losing 14 and drawing four. It is, therefore, no great surprise that Kohli will be judged on his ability to deliver overseas success for India in the Test arena; and, from a personal point of view, he couldn’t have asked for a better start to captaincy than facing Bangladesh first up.
True to his word, the Delhi batsman opted to field 5 specialist bowlers, an aggressive move, in the Fatullah Test. Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron were the pace trio for the visitors, who also played two off-spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan – on a dry pitch at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium.
That decision by Kohli was one of the very few highlights of the tour, at least from my point of view. In sub-continental conditions, he could well have done with playing just four bowlers and stuck with the 6-1-4 combination; instead, he has instigated a blueprint that you expect him to persevere with, in the Tests.
Lokesh Rahul was originally picked in the 15-man Test squad for the tour of Bangladesh, but the Karnataka batsman was affected by Dengue in the lead up to the match, allowing Shikhar Dhawan to return to the playing XI after sitting out the 4th Test against Australia Down Under.
India won the toss and chose to bat first against an inexperienced Bangladesh bowling attack that featured only one specialist seamer in Mohammad Shahid. The Indian openers – Murali Vijay and Dhawan – batted well despite being fortunate at times to not be dismissed. The pair put on 283 for the first wicket, with both of them scoring ‘daddy 100s’ and taking India to safety in the Test.
It remains to be seen who amongst L Rahul and Dhawan gets the nod as Vijay’s opening partner, having scored centuries in each of their previous outings and the right-hander losing out on his spot only due to illness. Dhawan’s 173 against Bangladesh should strengthen his case to be Vijay’s partner when India tour Srilanka in August, but we shall see how that scenario unfolds.
Rohit Sharma got out playing a lazy shot to Shakib Al Hasan’s fuller length delivery, and considering that he was given the nod ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara as India’s No.3, the Mumbai batsman didn’t do justice to the faith shown on him by the team management. His Mumbai Ranji teammate, Ajinkya Rahane, however, played another enterprising Test innings of 98 (103), following the good tour of Australia he enjoyed.
Despite posting 462/6 in the only innings they played, I think India’s Test batting lineup has a few question marks over it, especially that of the opener’s and No.3 slots. Those are key areas that the team management and selectors need to address soon, if they want India to improve as a Test side and register victories in overseas conditions. Also, Wriddhiman Saha needs to make significant contributions with the bat, as the wicket-keeper batsman in the side; his scores of 25, 13, 35, 0 and 6 in his last 5 Test innings’ are not good enough for India if they have made it clear to themselves that they are going to play 5 bowlers in the Test format.
In the bowling department, Ashwin bowled exceptionally well and his match figures of 5/95 do not even tell you the entire story. The other off-spinner, Harbhajan, also bowled well, and should really become a regular in the Indian Test side at least, with Jadeja looking clueless as a bowling all-rounder. The Indian fast bowlers toiled hard on a pitch that was dry, and the prevalent conditions didn’t help them in extracting some sort of movement in the air or off the pitch. But they wouldn’t be worried over their performances.
Overall, as far as the Fatullah Test was concerned, Kohli’s decision to go in with a 5-1-5 combination and Ashwin’s wonderful bowling rhythm, which aided India in bowling out Bangladesh in the 1st innings, were the positives to take away for the visitors.
Three-match ODI Series
While there were at least a couple of positives to come out of the Fatullah Test, India’s performance in the ODI series was a stark contrast of how they fared during their World Cup campaign.
They couldn’t handle Bangladesh’s aggressive intent and purposeful brand of cricket, which they exhibited throughout the series. The home side got into the psyche of their illustrious opponents with their performance in the 1st ODI, which they won by 79 runs, and then followed it up with an equally good performance in the second one-dayer.
India’s bowling was ‘the’ major letdown according to me, though their batting lineup, which is their strongest suit, was equally culpable for the team’s ignominious series defeat.
Ashwin, once again, was the standout bowler for the visitors, who otherwise had none of their fast bowlers step up to the plate and deliver. Yadav was back to his lackluster bowling days, spraying it all over the pitch and depriving his captain of any control whatsoever over proceedings; the duo of Mohit Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who are normally so accurate and reliable in the way they operate, looked clueless, too, and Dhoni had no option but to keep going back to his spinners to get wickets and wrest control of the game. India’s bowling was so chaotic that Suresh Raina bowled his full quota of overs during the first ODI, and then in the final ODI he picked up 3/45 from his 8 overs, the kind of spell that was invaluable to his team restoring some of the lost pride.
India’s batting fared well in the 3rd ODI that saw them post a mammoth 317 batting first, but the mainstays – Rohit, Kohli and Dhoni (in the first couple of ODIs) – of their lineup failed to come to the party at some of the critical stages during the series. We cannot overlook the potency exuded by the Bangladeshi attack led by Mustafizur Rahman, who finished the series with 13 wickets to his name and simply bamboozled every Indian batsman he bowled to. However, having said that, the normally aggressive Indian batsmen were defensive in their approach, especially in the second ODI, which played it into the hosts’ hands.
One of the marquee aspects of India’s exploits in the ODI series was Dhoni vastly changing the combination of the playing XI for the second ODI, dropping Rahane, Yadav and Mohit – India’s three key players at the World Cup – and still not being able to achieve an enviable result. Having known Dhoni, he is not the captain who prefers tweaking his playing XI from one game to another, and solely from that point of view, it was quite shocking to see him make such profound changes to India’s playing combination.
Dhawan looked in very good touch in the 2nd and 3rd ODIs, scoring half-centuries in both the games and building on from the wonderful form he showed in the World Cup. Dhoni decided to promote himself to No.4 in the batting order for the second ODI, but his decision didn’t pay off instantly. However, in the aftermath of the game, he expressed his desire to continue being India’s No.4, and contrary to his 47 (75) in the 2nd ODI, his innings of 69 (77) in the final game was much more assured and reminiscent of the Dhoni we have known over the years. Ashwin finished as the highest wicket-taker for the visitors, and his figures of 30-3-118-6 proved his efficiency with the ball while every one of his fellow bowlers took a bit of pounding from Tamim Iqbal and company. These were probably the highlights of India’s 1-2 ODI series defeat.
Maybe it was mental fatigue after the amount of cricket they have played this season, that impeded India from playing to their profile and actually winning the series, which they were expected to at the beginning of the tour. The normal energy levels were absent, and the hunger, it seemed, was lacking in the first couple of ODIs, which sealed their fate.
Also, the margin of victories achieved by Bangladesh in the first two ODIs would hurt India more than losing the series itself. They were outplayed by the 7th placed team in all three departments, and India might have to go back to the drawing board and assess how things went so massively wrong.