Time for Raina to harvest his ODI knowledge
Dhaka's bustle is loud, vibrant and distracting. The city refuses to quieten down even on holiday but there is a semblance of calm inside the Shere Bangla Stadium. And even here, there isn't much evidence that a one-day series between Bangladesh and India is on the horizon. Football has usurped the viewership.
Every second bus pits Lionel Messi against Neymar, electronics shops proclaim World Cup-themed discounts and tea shops host animated arguments over which team will emerge the last one standing in Rio. The streets are awash with Brazil and Argentina flags, some as large as 15 feet across.
Suresh Raina might well wonder about the visibility he could gain in his third stint as India captain. Interest among broadcasters has also been low, so much so that the series might not be on television in India. Perhaps the low profile might help him tackle the challenges ahead: a national comeback, as captain, in a three-match series where one off-day could trigger the walls to close in.
India, however, are favourites. The hosts' potential cannot be discounted, but recent history paints them in unflattering light. Since their 3-0 humiliation of New Zealand in 2013, Bangladesh's only victories in any format have come against Afghanistan and Nepal in the World T20. In the last six months, their captain has questioned the commitment of his men, the side has been strapped with new team management and a battle against corruption is also visible on the periphery. So a series win - should it transpire - might not fetch as many gold stars for Raina. On the other hand, defeat could cripple his portfolio. The classic lose-lose situation.
For the third-time running, Raina has been tasked to lead a depleted India side. Eight first-choice picks have been rested to gauge the pool available for the 2015 World Cup. One-fifth of the squad is uncapped - Kedar Jadhav, Akshar Patel and Parvez Rasool. Manoj Tiwary and international cricket will exchange pleasantries after two years' silence. Cheteshwar Pujara has largely been untested in limited-overs surrounds. And the bowling has the potential to tempt another Indian captain to say he believed they could concede 10 runs an over. Everything from the batting order to team strategy will need a rehash.
Raina has welcomed his responsibility as an honour. He has been part of a sound set-up for a good chunk of his ODI career and this series demands he harvest the knowledge gained. He will need to find a Virat Kohli among his batsmen to set up the game. Then he will need to find someone to fill in for MS Dhoni and finish the game. He need not look further than himself to bridge both roles at No.4. Raina has documented a thirst to bat up the order and display his skills at constructing an Indian victory. It is a desire that strikes every batsman dubbed a T20 specialist. His promise persuaded the team management to groom him as a replacement for Yuvraj Singh last year, but the venture failed.
Raina was cast aside for the Asia Cup. A run of 24 innings with only one half-century meant the weakness against short-pitched bowling had crept into his one-day performance. His bustle was gone, his footwork was nervous and his mind cluttered. The situation had become so dire that Raina was struck with misgivings about his future. But rejuvenating talks with former India captain Sourav Ganguly quelled the negativity. A typically savvy run in the IPL, culminating in a standout innings in the second qualifier would have ushered his confidence to the other end of the spectrum.
"He can develop into a good captain in the future," Duncan Fletcher had said during India's tour of West Indies in 2011. Raina lent weight to the assessment by guiding a young squad to triumph in the one-off T20 and the ensuing ODI series. It was a welcome balm against reminders of his debut as India captain - two crippling losses to Zimbabwe in 2010 and an early exit in a triangular one-day series.
A happy time at the helm did not flow into his batting against West Indies, though. His strokeplay had bordered on rash, limiting his impact to 82 runs in five matches. Fletcher had touched on the difficulties of juggling captaincy along with the process of establishing oneself as a player. "As a young player you are trying to develop your game and trying to establish your game but at the same time you are looking after 10 to 14 other youngsters," Fletcher said.
Unlike those two series, this squad, while fresh, has an average age of 27, the same as Raina's, which means the time spent cracking the domestic circuit would come in more than handy. The rest will also know the stakes. There are holes in the middle order that need to be filled before the 50-over World Cup. Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu and Raina himself will hope to use this series to stake their respective cases. The make-up of the fast-bowling attack is still in its experimental stages, which would invite Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Vinay Kumar to put their best foot forward.
There is much to play for and Raina will hope his bowlers seek victims with the fierce gusto of the street vendors in Dhaka, his batsmen channel the city's perennial activity while at the crease and, on the whole, spread some cricket fever as well.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo