Chesteshwar Pujara bowled a longish spell of high and flighty leg-spin at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, as India trained for a couple of hours on the eve their Asia Cup opener against Bangladesh. He batted for about 15 minutes, padding up after Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. India may not have revealed their playing XI yet, but going by Pujara’s activities, he looks a likely candidate to fill one slot of India’s gaping middle-order.
For the first time in close to a decade, the Indian one-day side is without the services of even one of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina. And following their harrowing experiences in the shorter formats in South Africa and New Zealand (they were blanked in both series’), the stable hands of Pujara might just be one of many answers India are looking for.
The Asia Cup has failed to create a buzz in Bangladesh. This, despite the fact that the hosts are taking on the world champions at the Fatullah Cricket Stadium on Tuesday. And what happened the last time India took on Bangladesh in the Asia Cup? One, Sachin Tendulkar scored his hundredth hundred. Two, Bangladesh chased down the target of 290, denying the men in blue of a chance of making the final.
Much has changed since that game in 2012. But not in a good way for India. Yes they have found some terrific players who had terrific seasons during the one-dayers that were played at home last year. But when push came to shove abroad, India and their new heroes were swept away. Now, a relatively new-look Indian team with an inexperienced middle-order have arrived to turn things around. Come to think of it, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu, Rahane and Pujara — men who could constitute the new Indian middle-order — have in total played just 98 matches between them.
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The onus then, is on Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, the only two players in this young and inexperienced Indian side to have played more than 100 matches each. If the rumours are to be believed, Kohli, the stand-in captain, has decided to stick to his number three slot, Dhoni’s absence notwithstanding. Without the best finisher in the game, a top-heavy India can only hope that the lower middle-order and the tail never do get exposed during the stipulated batting period of 50 overs.
Talking of the tail, India’s pace bowling has been an age-old problem area for India. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar returned with an economy rate of 5.79 from South Africa and New Zealand. Mohammed Shami conceded more, at 7.07 runs per over. Varun Aaron, in the three matches he played in New Zealand, gave away 164 runs in 23.1 overs. Will Kohli think out of the box and will add an extra spinner in form of Amit Mishra? Only time will tell.
On a positive note, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will have wickets that favour their restrictive styles. Whether one or both of them bowl within the first powerplay period is yet to be known, one thing is for sure. If India leak runs upfront, the spin twins will surely look to put the brakes on during the middle-orders — a period when India have turned matches their way. A period that will in all likelihood make them favourites against the hosts on Wednesday.
Bangladesh’s Mashrafe Mortaza, however, doesn’t think so. “It is no longer an upset when we beat India. We have done it before. Also, we are playing in home conditions,” said the veteran Bangladesh all-rounder. “Don’t forget, the crowd support is with us as well.”
Bangladesh may not have the record to follow up on the talk, especially after being drubbed 3-0 by Sri Lanka in the recent one-dayers, but the side’s coach, Australian born Shane Jurgensen, was happy that the team has finally learned to believe in itself.
Applauding their positive body language, Jurgensen said: “Bangladesh have gotten rid of their inferiority complex. They don’t fear anyone. Also, the series against Sri Lanka was close which could have gone either way. And tough competitions helped us nicely to prepare for the Asia Cup.”
Big Ban theory
But Bangladesh too have their fair share of problems. Opener Tamim Iqbal has been rested to keep him fit for the World T20 next month, while the country’s biggest match-winner, Shakib Al Hasan, is busy serving a three-match ban. Still, Habibul Bashar, former Bangladesh captain and current national selector, claims that his side is not deterred. “We have won matches without Shakib before,” Bashar said. “And we can do it again.”
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