India in familiar selection quandary
The day before the First Test at the Chittagong Divisional Stadium, the one thing more uncertain than the weather is the Indian team composition. Much of it surrounds the batting line-up, from the opening pair down to the middle order, possibly even the choice of keeper.
Their squad of 15 has only one specialist opener, Wasim Jaffer; partnering him could be any one of the experienced Indian middle order - Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, and Yuvraj Singh [making a Test comeback after his knee injury kept him out of Tests in South Africa] - or Dinesh Karthik. And if Karthik opens, only Jaffer and Dravid are the other certainties.
Asked about the opening pair, Dravid said he would like to keep it a bit of a surprise.
The bowling attack is similarly unknown, save the fact that Dravid may go in with five bowlers, given that it is going to be difficult to get 20 wickets on a flat wicket in the hot and muggy weather. "We do have the option of playing five bowlers in these conditions considering the weather, the wicket and what we are trying to achieve in this game," Dravid said. Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble look the certainties with the ball, while any two or three of the other bowlers might play.
Bangladesh look more certain and announced their 12, the choice made easier by the elimination of Tushar Imran who is ruled out with fever. The selection could very easily have become difficult had Habibul Bashar not recovered well from the fever he had yesterday. Bashar said today he was confident of playing in the Test.
One out of Saqibul Hasan and Mehrab Hossain jnr is set to make his debut. If they play two pacers, it will be the sturdier Shahadat Hossain and not the accurate Syed Rasel who will open the bowling with Mashrafe Mortaza.
Dravid said that the conditions will be the same for both the teams. Yet, that does not take away the significance of the conditions in the build-up. "The wicket looks pretty bare. It should hold together for the first two- and-a-half or three days," Dravid said, "It might break up as the game goes on. But initially I expect it to be pretty good and hold firm for a few days at least."
It may prove difficult to get 20 wickets here, and thunderstorms are never too far away either. India, on paper by far the stronger of the two sides, will probably attack the game from the off; therein lies Bangladesh's chance. The longer Bangladesh deny them and stay in the game, the more likely India are to get frustrated and Bangladesh's chances of causing a big upset will only get stronger. In Dav Whatmore's last series as the coach, Bangladesh will need the one virtue they have lacked, one that Whatmore has been demanding all through his tenure: patience.
Whatmore has been in the news in his own right, of course, having reportedly shown an interest in coaching India. Would such talk, even as the series is on, have any negative impact on Bangladesh? No, says Bashar. "We have never had such problems. He [Whatmore] is a professional; whenever he is on the field, he never lets his coaching suffer," he said. "We are doing the same thing as a professional team."
The last time Bangladesh played India, their batsmen kept at bay the Indian bowling attack, which wasn't weaker than the current one. But from 239 for 4, they collapsed to 333, even as Mohammad Ashraful, now the vice-captain, played the innings of that series, scoring an unbeaten 158. They ended up losing that match by an innings. That was three years ago, but the story was the same last year. At Fatullah, Shahriar Nafees had scored another breathtaking century and Bangladesh got 355 for 5 in the first day, but their next 15 wickets fell for 220 runs.
This Test will most likely be a battle between the persistence of Indian bowlers and the will of the Bangladesh batsmen. There could be a twist in the tale: if Bangladesh manage to put up a considerable total, they can become the aggressors as they did against Australia at Fatullah.
Bangladesh: Javed Omar, Shahriar Nafees, Habibul Bahsar (capt.), Mohammad Ashraful, Rajin Saleh, Saqibul Hasan, Khaled Mashud (wk), Mashrafe Mortaza, Mohammad Rafique, Enamul Haque jnr, Shahadat Hossain, Mehrab Hossain jnr
India: Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Dravid (capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ramesh Powar, Anil Kumble, Rajesh Pawar, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, RP Singh
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine