India play to their plan
Of course, the plans were rudely pushed aside with the very first ball of the day, with Wasim Jaffer's dismissal requiring Rahul Dravid to walk out, yet again, in the opening over of a Test. And just when one expected a slow, steady recovery, Dravid provided a twist by going on the attack. The wicket was flat, the bowlers, though spirited, were not persistent or disciplined enough and he dealt with it in an appropriate manner. Also, he had at the other end Dinesh Karthik, opening a Test innings only for the second time, and needed to take the lead.
Was it planned? "Things like [losing] a wicket in the first ball do not happen usually," Karthik said pithily after the day's play. "We didn't plan it, we just played instinctively." Yet it was a bold approach, given that India had gone into the match with only five specialist batsmen
It took Dravid three overs to assess the situation and, when Shahadat Hossain offered one full and outside the off stump in the fourth over, he leant in and drove it through the covers for four. The next over he showed his trust in the bounce of the wicket when he essayed an aerial cut off Mashrafe Mortaza, which just about cleared a leaping backward point. He followed that up with an array of punches, drives, and flicks, but the crucial point was that no shot looked risky.
Happily, and not entirely unexpectedly, Dravid's approach caught up with Karthik too and they scored fluently enough to bring up the 100-run partnership in the 21st over. This is the fourth time [a record] Dravid has featured in a second-wicket 100-run partnership after walking in at 0 for 1.
Too often over the last couple of years, India have squandered a quick start by shutting shop once a couple of quick wickets have fallen, forgetting that scoring runs is the main purpose of batting. Such a scenario seemed to be on the cards again when Dravid and Karthik fell within eight runs of each other and the score stood at 132 for 3. Mortaza and Hossain were bowling well and seemed to be benefiting from the overcast conditions. But, after grinding the fast bowlers out of the attack, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly too cut loose.
They were helped by the spinners, Bangladesh's strength, being off their game today. They bowled too many short ones to Tendulkar, who accepted with delight. Ganguly, cautious against the short-pitched bowling of Hossain, didn't mind the short ones from the spinners. Once set, he twice conjured a sight that has become rare and much missed: stepping out to a spinner and lofting him for a six.
It's easy to dismiss the partnership in light of the quality of the attack but there was a gameplan to follow, the odd ball was keeping low and wickets at that point of time would have forced India to fall back on to a Plan B. Under those conditions, Tendulkar and Ganguly paced their innings almost perfectly.
The plan for Bangladesh would have been to get quick wickets and choke the batsmen. They had the opportunity twice but each time failed to test India's weakness. It was not easy to bowl on this unresponsive wicket and under the hot, humid conditions; that could have played a role in what looked like a tactical error to take Mortaza and Shahadat off when they were looking good in the middle session.
India's plan tomorrow will be to see off the early morning freshness and then go on to bat Bangladesh out of the game. They will have to contend with Mortaza again, and the bowler had no doubts as to where the match stood. Asked whether Bangladesh had lost their chance, his reply was quick: "No. We have time tomorrow morning. If we can take a few quick wickets tomorrow, it could be different."
Indeed it could. Considering only Mahendra Singh Dhoni stands between this partnership and the long Indian tail, Tendulkar and Ganguly's job is only half done.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine