The most intense contest on Saturday at the Holkar Stadium was the thrilling chase between a bunch of hefty security men and a bald-headed semi-streaker. It was the slow reaction time of the men in uniform that saw the fence-jumping, shirtless fan just about win the race to sneak into the Indian huddle and touch Virat Kohli’s feet.
Meanwhile, as for the feature event, the India-Bangladesh Test, it was more of a one-sided exhibition tie that toggled seamlessly between India’s overwhelming superiority and Bangladesh’s inferiority. The Saturday crowd 16,000 raised the proverbial roof when wickets fell and mocked the visitors when they looked technically inept to play the longest, and the most difficult, format of the game.
Virat Kohli & Co.’s 130 run-win — their third straight innings victory and a record sixth consecutive Test match triumph at home — was further evidence that the cricket-watching experience of fans during home Tests has well and truly been changed. These days there’s no tumult, no anxiety, no anguish, or even euphoria over the fall of the final wicket.
For those following the World No.1 Test side at home, it’s just a wait for the eventuality when Kohli takes the victory lap. This change is a tribute to the team that has kept complacency far from the dressing room. As the team’s batting coach Vikram Rathour said after the win: “It’s the team culture, it’s not about batting or bowling. The team wants to be the No.1 team in the world. That’s why you see the hunger.”
The fat lady no longer bothers to turn up at stadiums for India games. She stays put at home, mourning her irrelevance. At Indore, all the singing was done by the fans for Kohli and his fast bowlers. The wait didn’t last long. On a sporting pitch, Kohli’s team finished the Test in three days.
First, a few numbers to highlight the disparity between the two teams. The grand total of Bangladesh’s first-innings score and runs scored by their top order in the second — 150 and 72/5 — happens to be less than Mayank Agarwal’s 243. Four of their bowlers bowled 89 overs between them for just 2 wickets. In their first innings, four Bangladesh bowlers — Ebadat Hossain, Abu Jayed, Taijul Islam and Mehidy Hasan Miraz — went for over 100 runs each. For India on Day 1, the three quicks — Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami — conceded only 94 runs between them.
Beyond these depressing numbers there was more darkness looming on Bangladesh’s Test horizon. The visiting openers couldn’t play the moving the ball, their middle-order didn’t have the patience to grind out and at least one tailender backed off towards the square-leg umpire when facing the quicks.
Openers Shadman Islam and Imrul Kayes weren’t equipped to deal with the new red ball, and inspired little confidence as to how they would fare against the pink ball in less than a week’s time. They didn’t quite cover the line and try to read the swing or seam movement. Ishant’s consistent off-stump line and the away movement was way too much to handle for the men more used to playing in coloured clothing and facing the white ball.
The three Ms — Mominul Haque, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah — did show shades of Test match temperament, but they don’t have it in them to be the team’s mainstay. In the absence of the main batting stars — Tamim and Shakib — they were pushed into the limelight, but they were found wanting. Mushfiqur’s 150-ball 64 in the second innings can qualify to be called good only when there’s no Shakib hundred in the scoreboard. In Indore, all that the diminutive batsmen, who famously squandered a famous T20 chase against India three years ago, got was sympathy.
The worst advertisement of Bangladesh cricket was the sight of the tailenders at the crease. In an era when teams bat deep, the visiting bowlers were backing off towards the square leg umpire when facing Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami. Aware of Umesh’s consistency with his toe-crushers, they hopped around on the crease even before the ball was released.
It was the kind of humiliating loss that can trigger several drastic thoughts in the losing side’s dressing room. Seniors start thinking about retirement and juniors get riddled with self-doubts. With an easier and shorter format as a very viable option, these Test misfits might be tempted to embrace the high-paying T20 franchise model.
Bangladesh’s new coach Russell Domingo has a task at hand. He needs to motivate his defeated side. He has spoken about phasing out the seniors and also following the Indian model. “Bangladesh needs to do so by trying to develop fast bowlers, prepare wickets that help fast bowlers. India no longer rely on spinners. They will prepare good wickets and back their fast bowlers to do the business,” Domingo said.
Bangladesh’s falling Test standard isn’t just a problem for coach Domingo or the Bangladesh cricket officials who are still reeling after the latest corruption scandal involving their biggest star. Even for the International Cricket Council (ICC), which is banking on the ongoing World Test Championship to monetise Test cricket, the three-day India-Bangladesh finish could be a cause of concern. India with 300 points, and 6 wins from as many games, is at the top of the table while Bangladesh is yet to open its account. New Zealand is in the second spot, trailing by 240 points.
The Test Championship has certainly given context to Test cricket. But one-sided three-day games are a spoiler. Indore filled the stadium on Saturday and cheered India all day long. On Sunday, they would have turned up again, but Bangladesh’s Test match incompetence killed the contest.
Minus the magical intensity, edge-of-the-seat drama, riveting suspense that even makes the neutrals excited, sport loses its essence. India can’t be blamed for it, the world needs to raise the bar.