Surreality was in the air in Hyderabad. A king-size framed portrait of a handsome Rajiv Gandhi, in a lovely cricket jersey, padded up, and in that Lotto shoes of his that survived his assassination, hogs the wall at the lobby of the stadium named after him. Not far from it, atop another wall, Anurag Thakur and Shashank Manohar smile at you from a snapshot in happier times. At the press interaction, the Indian coach Anil Kumble is asked about the 17th anniversary of his ten-wickets in an innings, and it’s not even #ThrowbackThursday — a hashtag he frequently uses on social media while posting old pictures. The portraits and pictures from (imaginary and real) past, though, seemed to suggest that it was a #ThrowbackTuesday. However, if any team should refrain from harking back to its past, it’s Bangladesh. It has all the elements of a good Test team in these conditions, but can they hold their nerves at a big stage like this and not do the choking errors that have plagued them in the recent past?
“I’m a little surprised, I don’t believe that this is a historic Test.”
— Mushfiqur Rahim
Rahim, Bangladesh’s captain, is one of more fascinating characters around this team – diminutive size, schoolboyish face, those emotions-revealing eyes, the overexcited voice, and an inability almost to mask what he is feeling. With his views on historic occasion, he has said the right stuff as a captain. There is no use beating yourself up over a solitary Test in India, but then the thing with Rahim is it’s difficult to believe that could be the case. Under pressure for his captaincy — his tactical skills have been under the scanner recently, he is under the kosh a little bit, and needs a good outing here to prove to Bangladesh’s fans that he is the right man to lead the country.
By all accounts, as that mocking tweet after India’s exit in the T20 World Cup last year showed, he is a quite an emotional man. No one though can question his big heart when he is out there in the middle with the bat. The recent New Zealand series, where he was peppered with bouncers and took so many on the body that the journalists lost count, is a case in point. It would be really interesting to see him captain and lead the team over the next few days here.
“There is no competition (with Ashwin). He is doing well from his place, and I am trying to do well at my end. I will be happy if I get to contribute for my team in the role I am in.”
— Shakib Al Hasan
Yet another emotional character in the team, Shakib is their biggest player probably who is a proven commodity for many years now. No question about his talent — only bizarrely his IPL teams didn’t think so in the initial years — but it would come again to how he is feeling on the day. He has done some strange things in the past to say the least. The obscene gesture to his crotch from the dressing room balcony when the television replays showed his dismissal, an act that was flashed on the big screen in the stadium and beamed live across living rooms, takes the prime spot in the highlights reel of Shakib, but he has done more stuff. Like saying in a newspaper interview that “Bangladeshi players can’t hit big sixes regularly as most of them have grown up eating only khichdi and not orange juice!” Or how they should not play home series for at least two years. Googling would reveal more such spoken-from-the-heart gems from him. Much would depend on this temperamental, and talented, cricketer if Bangladesh are to do well in this Test.
“If we play good cricket over five days, then the Test will be interesting. It is apparent that it is going to be a real challenge for our team.”
– Courtney Walsh, Bangladesh’s bowling coach
Probably the least emotional in the Bangladesh squad, Walsh didn’t believe in giving any consolatory or chest-beating words of positivity. He has obviously hit the nail on its head. For all its recent improvements, Bangladesh have somehow stumbled in the last hurdle. It was seen in that frenetic T20 world cup game against India of course, but also in the Tests — against England in the manner how they imploded to lose a Test. And then against New Zealand, after putting on a massive first-innings total, they contrived to lose it in one mad session. Unsurprisingly, for a developing cricketing nation, the ability to last the five days hasn’t come that easily but here is another chance to set it right.
All in all, a fascinating Test awaits us. An emotional team who are evolving and learning how to hold their nerves and be consistent. Pity about the injuries to two key young players — the opener Imrul Keyes and the talented Mustafizur Rehman — but Test romantics would hope that they can unleash their best against India. What this Test means for them was said best by their captain Rahim just before they left for India. “We want to tell world cricket what we can do in India. I don’t think about how many years later we are going to play in India. We want to play in such a way that India invites again and again.”
If they do well, then may be Shakib would perhaps agree that little bit of khichdi isn’t all that bad, and admit that orange juice is a bit overrated.