Bangladesh’s tour of India is probably their most challenging international assignment in a long time. They came without two of their most experienced players in Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal for different reasons - two players who have five man-of-the-match awards between them in the 13 Tests Bangladesh have won so far. That left them without their first choice captain for the Test leg of the tour. Shakib’s importance can be laid by the fact that Bangladesh felt so assured in his leadership, they did not even bother to appoint a vice-captain.
In addition, there was the intimidating factor of facing India in India. Few people gave them a chance to compete in the T20I series. However, they outdid everyone’s expectations. The dynamics of T20 cricket where the supposedly weaker sides have often pulled off astonishing victories allowed Bangladesh to not only open their account of T20I victories against their neighbours but also push for a series victory in Nagpur.
But the completely different and relentless attributes of Test cricket means that repeating a similar kind of performance in the longest format of the game is an uphill task. Mominal Haque, picked to fill in the captaincy shoes of Shakib ahead of seniors like Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim, will have the extra responsibility of carrying the burden of Bangladesh’s last Test result where they suffered an embarrassing defeat against Afghanistan on their home soil.
His biggest task will be to make use of his spinners effectively against a rampaging Indian batting line-up. The role of spinners in Bangladesh’s success in international cricket has been huge. In their 13 Test victories so far, three of their spin bowlers, Shakib, Mehidy Hasan and Taijul Islam have won seven man-of-the-match awards between them (Shakib’s batting abilities also helped him to get his three man-of-the-match awards).
Irrespective of the conditions, it has always been the spinners who have done the majority of bowling for them. Needless to say, they will be bowling a lot of spin against India in the first Test in Indore. But bowling spin against India is completely different from bowling spin against any other country. The Indian contingent of batsmen is the best against spin by a few miles.
Dissecting it further to bowler’s type, Taijul, the left-arm spinner who recently became the fastest Bangladeshi bowler to pick 100 Test wickets has been Bangladesh’s highest wicket-taker since 2018. The Indian batsmen have averaged 68.7 runs per wicket against the left-arm spinners in the considered time period concluding that Taijul will have to open a can of worms for the opponent batsmen to have a similar kind of impact he has had in Bangladesh.
On the batting front, Bangladesh will have the task to negotiate both the Indian spinners and the pacers. For a long time, it was largely about facing the spinners in India with great efficiency but of late, the Indian pacers have attained an unprecedented strength while bowling in India. The last two series at home have seen the Indian pacers bowl at an average of 17.5 against South Africa and 16.2 against West Indies, the lowest in a home series in Indian cricket’s history.
However, the Bangladeshi batsmen holds the ability to test the Indian spinners a bit more than the Proteas did in their recently concluded series in India (as the numbers show in the first graph).
In the absence of Tamim and Shakib, the seniors have no option but to be at their best for Bangladesh to bat long and stand a chance. Even a draw would be no less than a moral victory for the Mominul Haque-led side. Mahmudullah has the highest batting average for Bangladesh since 2018 (41), skipper Mominul Haque is their highest run scorer (773 runs with four hundreds) and Mushfiqur Rahim will take confidence from the gutsy hundred that he scored in Bangladesh’s only Test on the Indian soil as yet - the Hyderabad Test in February, 2017.
As said earlier, the Test series will be a sterner task for Bangladesh but they would like to approach it with the same energy with which they went in the T20Is. The appointment of Mominul Haque as captain is an indication that Bangladesh is not just living in the moment, instead they are eyeing bigger things for future. Their head coach, Russell Domingo has the experience of coaching a Test side in India. He was South Africa’s coach during Proteas’ 3-0 Test defeat in 2015 and would be eager to rectify his record.
Pitch and Conditions:
The only Test played at Indore’s Holkar Stadium so far saw the Indian spinners take 17 out of the 18 New Zealand wickets taken by the bowlers in that match. Although, that was a time when India used to dish out turning tracks. In the nine first-class matches played in Indore since 2017, it has been the pacers who have done majority of damage.
The pitch supported a tinge of green on the eve of the match suggesting assistance for the fast bowlers once again. While India boasts of an all-round attack at the moment, Bangladesh lack firepower in the pace-bowling department. Since 2018, their pacers have an average of 63.1 runs per wicket with a strike-rate of 108.1 balls per wicket, the worst amongst all side. Next on the list is Sri Lanka whose pacers have bowled at an average of 31.2 and a strike-rate of 55.9. The wide gap is an indication of the struggle of Bangladeshi pacers.
India: Like they did in their previous Test against South Africa, the home side is likely to field another five-man bowling attack in Indore. However, it may comprise of three pacers given the considerable amount of grass on the Holkar pitch, instead of three spinners as it was the case in the Ranchi Test last month.
Probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma
Bangladesh: Mustafizur Rahman’s falling numbers in Test cricket over the years puts him in competition with the youngster Ebadat Hossain to accompany Abu Jayed in the pace attack. The same dilemma lies at the top of the order - whether to go with experience of Imrul Kayes or to try the youngster, Saif Hassan, who has batted at an average of 107 in the three games he has played in the ongoing National Cricket League, Bangladesh’s premier first-class competition.
Probable XI: Shadman Islam, Saif Hassan/Imrul Kayes, Mominul Haque (c), Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Mithun, Liton Das (wk), Mehidy Hasan, Taijul Islam, Abu Jayed, Ebadat Hossain.