THAT INDIA’S last tour to Bangladesh in June 2015 would be brought up very early in the interaction was inevitable. It was an eventuality that even the team director, Ravi Shastri, must have expected. Not only had Bangladesh clinched their first-ever ODI series win against the mighty western neighbours back then, they had done so with a game to spare, leaving a full-strength India to be content with just a consolation victory. These wins were also achieved by comprehensive margins, with Bangladesh running roughshod over the visitors. Yes, India aren’t here for a bilateral series on this occasion. This is the Asia Cup — played in the T20 format for the first-time ever — with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and UAE also in the mix. But it was only obvious that Shastri would get asked about exorcising the demons from last year, more so with India set to take on Bangladesh in the tournament opener on Wednesday.
But as always, Shastri was ready. He did recall that tour as having happened ‘eight months ago’, but refused to remember much about it citing, “Since in our country, public memory is short, I have also made it a habit to remember things only for 10 days.”
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He further went on to insist on being in the present and wanting his team to focus more on their sensational T20 achievements of late, which include clean-sweeping Australia 3-0 in the series Down Under and coming from behind to defeat Sri Lanka 2-1 at home.
“That was eight months ago. I have already forgotten that. A lot has happened after that. Ask me about what happened over the last two weeks. My memory-bank is limited,” he said, speaking to the media during India’s first practice session at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah on Monday.
Back in June, the one man who had really pulled the rug from under the Indians’ feet was the lanky left-arm swing bowler, Mustafizur Rahman, who has since earned renown elsewhere and recently earned an IPL contract. And there has been talk in the Bangladesh press about the hosts planning to prepare ‘green’ tracks to suit their wrecker-in-chief with the new-ball. But when asked about how his team felt about those apparent tactics, Shastri was as defiant as ever.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of wicket they have prepared. We are here to play cricket and keep the good form going. As simple as that. Whether it is Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. Our job is to go out there and do our duties,” he said.
But both Shastri and India will realise and accept that they no longer start as overwhelming favourites against Bangladesh, like has been the norm for a majority of their rivalry over the years. The tigers have been rampant on home soil of late. They followed up their series win against India by beating South Africa in the ODIs before thrashing Zimbabwe across both limited-overs formats in late 2015. The Africans did come back to level the following T20 series last month, but Bangladesh approach cricket games with the kind of confidence never seen before. They made the World Cup quarterfinal last year, and also qualified for next year’s Champions Trophy in England, leaving Pakistan and West Indies to fight for the last spot.
Having said that, this will also be the first time that Bangladesh enter a multi-nation tournament as serious title-contenders, and not just because it’s being played in their backyard. And to his credit, Shastri was generous in his praise for the hosts, and the development they’ve made in terms of the pecking order in world cricket over the last 12 months or so.
‘They have our respect’
“I have seen cricket in Bangladesh grow. I am happy to see Bangladesh evolved as a team. No team can take them lightly as they have showed their talent in the ODI cricket last year. They have the respect of every opposition, and India will be no different. We will play them in that fashion,” said Shastri.
Speaking of a team evolving, Shastri himself has overseen the coming of age of an Indian outfit across all formats since taking over as director some 20 months ago. And his team showed a lot character and gumption in Australia to over-turn a 0-4 score-line in the ODI series and win the last four matches on tour, which included the 3-0 T20 whitewash. It’s an achievement that gives Shastri great confidence going into the World T20, which India will host next month. But while he lauded Dhoni & Co for coming from behind, he did wish that they start beginning better.
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“We don’t want to always come from behind. Sometimes we want to start well too. Hopefully we will be looking to do that in this tournament. Every game from now is important for the World Cup. Yes, we are playing this Asia Cup. The momentum is good, so it’s important to keep this momentum going. Winning is a habit. When you are playing good cricket, it’s important to keep that habit going,” he said.
Shastri also insisted that the reversal in the team’s fortunes over the last month is no ‘fluke’ and that it was a testament to the self-belief in each and every member of the Indian camp presently.
“What Virat did (speaking of making it 4-4 after losing the fourth ODI in Canberra) is echo the words of every player in the team. When the whole team knew that if you win one match, there is every chance of winning two or three on the trot. As far as we are concerned, it’s not a fluke, it’s not a surprise. It’s just a plain fact that we played very good cricket,” he said.
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