India-Bangladesh soap opera set for new season
It was all telenovela in 2015. MS Dhoni as the hero who had gone on to be perceived as villain. "If I am the reason for all the bad that is happening to Indian cricket, definitely I would love to step away." R Ashwin was the steadfast sidekick. "If my captain asks me to die on the field, I'll do it." And Mustafizur Rahman was the shy, rising star; he had become a world-record holder after playing two ODIs and you could barely get two words out of him. All he would do was flash that big, toothy grin and say he was happy to perform for the team. There is no sign of a resumption of the ad wars, but the rest of the protagonists are back for season two, with the added twist of an Asia Cup and World T20 implications.
Bangladesh's limited-overs team has maintained their Mirpur stronghold jealously since failing to chase 106 against India in 2014. They have played 19 matches and won 14 of them. The trouble is, out of those five losses, three have come in T20Is. With their one-day cricket in prime order, the coach Chandika Hathurusingha has been concentrating on building skills that are vital to success in the shortest format. The team goes into the Asia Cup after a couple of camps in Khulna and Chittagong.
India are not light on preparation either. They have been playing T20 cricket since the start of the year (the carnival continues through to May with the IPL) and are quite certain of their first XI. The only issue might be is some of the players in that XI have not had enough match practice. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and the returning Virat Kohli have been merciless in their plunder of runs that the middle order has not had much to do. Over six matches, Yuvraj Singh has faced only 26 balls and rookie allrounder Hardik Pandya 18. India do not seem to be worried though, as both Dhoni and Kohli have said their players are well tuned to T20 cricket thanks to the IPL.
Form Guide (last five completed matches)
India - WWLWW
Bangladesh - LLWWL
Watch out for
Yuvraj Singh signs in at the dotted line under returning old favourites. Fifteen years since his international debut, he is still madly sought after. The last three IPL auctions have netted him a whopping Rs 37 crores. At the team hotel in Dhaka, he was spirited aside by a few players from the Oman team to take some pictures and share some secrets. It is unlikely that anyone will ever forget what happened the last time he was in these parts, but with a Sri Lanka rematch and a clash with Pakistan around the corner, maybe he has the opportunity to do something about that.
Mahmudullah signs in at the dotted line under captain's understudy. He is seen as an option to take over Bangladesh after Mashrafe Mortaza having led Barisal Bulls, a team sans any big names, into the final of the Bangladesh Premier League. But he is not seen as the best fit for T20s. He tends to be grilled about his strike-rate a lot and when the question was put forward this time, he quipped that he will try to hit the first ball he faces in the Asia Cup for six.
Dhoni returned fitter and leaner after a rare break from international cricket just before the Australia tour in January, but an onset of back spasms two days out from India's first match of the Asia Cup and three weeks out from their first match of the World T20. The team manager said he was recovering well and will be assessed before the match. If he is not fit, Parthiv Patel, who last played for India in 2012, has arrived as back-up. But if Parthiv is brought in, will he fit in the middle order or at the top where he's had most of his success in domestic limited-overs cricket?
India (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk)/ Parthiv Patel, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ashish Nehra
Coach Chandika Hathurusingha was impressed by Mohammad Mithun in the Chittagong camp, so he could get a first look in ahead of Imrul Kayes. Both Taskin Ahmed and Abu Hider might miss out while Nasir Hossain too could be benched with Nurul Hasan taking wicket-keeping and late-hitting duties.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Soumya Sarkar, 2 Mohammad Mithun, 3 Sabbir Rahman, 4 Mahmudullah, 5 Mushfiqur Rahim, 6 Shakib Al Hasan, 7 Nurul Hasan (wk), 8 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 9 Arafat Sunny, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Al-Amin Hossain
Pitch and conditions
Mirpur sprung a green pitch on India's juniors at the Under-19 World Cup and more recently, the final game of the Asia Cup qualifiers played under lights helped the new ball dart around considerably. If the early phase is seen through, however, lots of runs are on offer. There is also the slim possibility of rain playing spoilsport.
Stats and trivia
Since 2014, Bangladesh batsman score at 132.33 in the last four overs, which is the worst worst among Full Members. In the Powerplay, Bangladesh batsmen's strike-rate of 112 is second-worst after Pakistan's.
In T20Is since 2014, India's No. 5 to No. 7 have averaged just 16.78 - only Hong Kong, Nepal and Papua New Guine have averaged worse.
"As many different teams as we play before the World T20, it gives us an opportunity to assess what the teams are like, what the balance is like, what their strengths and weaknesses are and where we stand against them."
- India batsman Virat Kohli
"We had all our experiments done against Zimbabwe in January. There's no room for any such experiments in the Asia Cup. This is a very important tournament ahead of the World T20."
- Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza