Not often do we came across a first match of the series with two different underlying objectives for the two teams. While the hosts already have an eye on the T20I World Cup in about 12-months’ time, the visitors are under pressure to rise to the occasion as they are still searching for their first T20I victory over their neighbours.
India have rested their marquee players in Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah to test the bench strength, whereas the absence of the most experienced players in Tamim Iqbal, due to injury and Shakib-Al-Hasan, due to unforeseen circumstances plague the Bangladesh team. A 12-month ban of the fan-favourite and their best player in the recently concluded 50-over World Cup is expected to derail their plan for the T20I World Cup in 2020.
Focus for the hosts
While the quality of air in the national capital and the discretion of Bangladesh’s superstar has already taken highlights at the start of the series, the focus for India will be to take one step closer in identifying the batsmen for the middle-order leading up to the World Cup.
With the collapse of the middle order in the last T20I against South Africa in September well forgotten, resting Kohli for this series is a step in the right direction.
Since 2018, India have tried as many as 13 players in the middle-order (positions 4 to 7) in T20Is. Out of these, 8 have featured five or more times. While it is pragmatic to try as many players as possible before the global event, the problem lies with identifying the players that have nailed down their spot in the team.
Of the eight, the four players who have been consistent and played at a brisk pace are Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina. While Hardik Pandya is a certainity in the team if fit, the chances of the other three representing India in the World Cup are bleak. Among the other regulars, Manish Pandey has been consistent but his scoring rate is well below the global standard and Rishabh Pant is yet to set the intrenational stage on fire for both facets of T20I batting.
While India boasts an envious top-order, the middle order remains unsetlled. The specific skills needed for the role can be understood by the fact that a batsman like Kohli averages over 50 in T20Is overall but averaged only 23.5 with a mediocre strike-rate of 113.7 in seven innings he played in the middle-order since 2018.
With either of Krunal Pandya or Ravindra Jadeja expected to play as a bowling all-rounder at 7, there are still two positions up for grabs in the middle-order. With the absence of Kohli and Hardik Pandya, an opportunity has opened up for Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson along with Pandey and Pant to claim their stake on the spots available for the World Cup.
Two other areas of interest before the toss will be an expected debut of the young all-rounder Shivam Dube and the choice of spinners with two out of Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar and Washington Sundar expected to play.
All-round improvement needed for the visitors
Bangladesh’s batsmen exceeded expectations in the 50-over World Cup earlier this year. Their top-7 batsmen had an aggregate average and strike-rate comparable with the teams like England, Australia and India. However, they have failed to expand the same improvement into their T20 game. The last time they beat any of the current top-6 teams in a T20I game was in March 2016. Bangladesh defeated Pakistan by 55 runs at Kolkata in the ICC World T20.
Since 2018, neither their batsmen nor the bowlers have been able to match the quality of other top teams in T20I cricket. Hence, they find themselves in the company of teams that are neither scoring quick runs (more than the global median of 8.5 rpo) nor controlling runs while bowling (less than the global median of 8.25 rpo) – i.e. ‘Neither Fluent nor miser’ category. Their rivals on the other hand are in the ‘Fluent and miser’ category since they are scoring quicker than the global median and giving away lesser runs per over than the global median.
Bangladesh, a country obsessed with producing left-arm orthodox spinners, have failed to produce any wrist spinner, a variety currently the cream of the crop in T20 cricket. Among the pacers, none apart from Mustafizur Rahman has the guile and variations to induce any sort of terror in the opposition batsmen.
While there are decent batsmen in the squad in Mushfiqur Rahim, the skipper Mahmudullah and Soumya Sarkar, they do not possess the power hitting that is largely a convention in the shortest format of the game. One spark of bright spot for the visitors is the wicket-keeper batsman Litton Das who has a strike-rate of 143.3 since 2018.
As the two teams set themselves to play the first bilateral T20I series between them, there is an increased pressure on seniors like Rahim and Mahmudullah to deliver. The visitors will hope to capitalize on the forward-looking mindset of the Indian team management that can provide some opportunity for them to change their dubious record against the home side.
India: Rohit Sharma ©, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Krunal Pandya, Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar, Khaleel Ahmed, Yuzvendra Chahal
Bangladesh: Liton Das, Mohammad Naim, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah ©, Soumya Sarkar, Mosaddek Hossain, Afif Hossain, Arafat Sunny, Mustafizur Rahman, Al-Amin Hossain, Taijul Islam