India's chance for redemption

Rahul Dravid sits in the centre, surrounded by his team-mates and flanked by Ravi Shastri, the cricket manager, and Surendra Bhave, the administrative manager. About 50 cameramen click and shoot away, as the team gathers for an official shoot hours before departing for Bangladesh.
Dravid's smile hides any pain there might be from the blow he had received from an RP Singh bouncer at the nets yesterday. He has scored 10,125 ODI runs and 12 centuries. The 14-member Bangladesh squad have a total of 10,794 runs and six centuries. There must be countless other such numbers that will suggest that this tour should be an easy one for India. Yet, a series in Bangladesh has probably never been more anticipated anywhere, anytime - not even in Zimbabwe or Kenya for whom a Bangladesh tour might mean taking on someone their own size.

We have a Trinidad Saturday to thank for that. The consequence of that rout was a first-round exit for India from the World Cup. The Indian team, which had been worried about the lack of time between the World Cup and the Bangladesh tour, have ended up getting about a month to prepare themselves. Bangladesh, who stayed on in the West Indies till April 21, now joke about how they are the ones who haven't got enough time. A single result has completely changed the anticipation levels of the forthcoming series.

Another development that can be linked to India's defeat is the rest imposed upon Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, who have scored 14,847 and 10,632 runs respectively. While Bangladesh can congratulate themselves for having forced such dynamic changes, Manoj Tiwary and Dinesh Mongia, the replacements, won't exactly mind this. Especially Tiwary, who has looked extremely eager at the conditioning camp. If he makes it to the playing XI, he will provide - apart from his batting - a couple of young energetic legs to an Indian team which has worn an old, tired look for some time now.

Anil Kumble has retired, while Harbhajan Singh and Ajit Agarkar have been dropped after the World Cup. This has given Ramesh Powar and RP Singh another opportunity. Singh has already surprised many with the sudden bounce he has been generating in the camp at Kolkata, injuring Mongia and Dravid in the process. Legspinner Piyush Chawla's chances of making his debut will depend on Powar's performance, as well as the kind of wickets on offer.

The Indian team has been through a conditioning camp in Kolkata, the closest they could have come to replicating the climatic conditions of Bangladesh. Shastri has been happy with the way the team has come together and the way they have coped with the heat.

Maddening expectation or not, the tour cannot mean more to India than it does to Bangladesh. They have just started to look threatening, and the upset victories have become more frequent. They have become so confident as to take offence to their victories against India and South Africa being labelled upsets. Yet, they have confounded with schizophrenic displays against Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Australia. This is their time to consolidate on the advances made in the World Cup. They have never had more belief in themselves.

They have an opposition whose egos have been hurt, and who will go all out to redeem themselves in the eyes of a passionate nation. Shastri said as much today: "After the World Cup it is not only the people of India who are disappointed. The players are more disappointed than anybody else. Make no mistake about that. They will want to prove a point."

Still, the best possible result for India here will amount to just a beginning towards redemption. They will at least be relieved to be playing again, instead of being under media scrutiny for the contracts issue, for endorsements, or other such matters. They will know that victories, and only comprehensive ones, will heal what happened at the World Cup.

Not only will India have to deal with a resurgent Bangladesh team, they will also have to negotiate the hot and humid weather. The Australians will testify that a packed schedule in the hottest months of the year is the best recipe for a disaster in Bangladesh - they came close to one last year. The only difference this time around is a more assured Bangladesh team pitted against an Indian team that is certainly not as tough to keep down as Australia. To make matters worse, India will not play a single practice game throughout the tour; 13 days of international cricket will be played over a tour of 23 days. Obviously, the home team stands to gain more out of such a schedule. Add to this the slow and low wickets and throw in the left-arm spin triplet, and there is every chance of a struggle for India.

India's Tests-only players have flown back home, while the one-day team flies to Dhaka on Monday to play what is expected to be the most evenly contested series between Bangladesh and a Test-playing nation other than Zimbabwe.