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India v Bangladesh – a story of no little intrigue

Wisden India logo Wisden India 09-02-2017

Once upon a time, things were lovely and everyone was friendly with each other.

June 2000. Jagmohan Dalmiya pulled one of those rabbits he had hidden away in one of his many hats, and Bangladesh were a Test-playing nation.

By November, India were visiting Bangladesh, and the newbies had their first Test match – a one-off affair in the old Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, a centre of much history, and not just of the sporting kind. Against a bowling attack of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Sunil Joshi and Murali Kartik, they put up 400 before stopping India just 29 runs in front. For three days, the game was even. And then it all went pear-shaped as Bangladesh were bowled out for 91 in their second innings and India won by nine wickets.

Cut to January 2017, and things, it would appear, are not too different.

Basin Reserve, Wellington. Bangladesh 595 for 9 declared. New Zealand 539 all out. Advantage Bangladesh. Then Bangladesh 160 for 9 (all out) and New Zealand 217 for 3 and seven-wicket victors.

There is a lot of truth in that scorecard.

It says that Bangladesh have some ability, as they showed in 2016 when they recorded their equivalent of India’s Chennai 1952. It was their first major Test victory, against a team that really mattered – England. And they had in young Mehedi Hasan their Vinoo Mankad, the 12-wicket man. In Wellington, it was Shakib Al Hasan with 217 and Mushfiqur Rahim with 159, two of the three men with half-centuries (Tamim Iqbal being the third) when Bangladesh beat India in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.

But that scorecard also speaks of the thinness of the Bangladesh team. Incapable of staying the course, of winning more sessions than they lose, of playing Test cricket the way it must be played – over five days. Shakib’s second-innings duck after the double-century was the state of Bangladesh Test cricket in microcosm.

Bangladesh have played 97 Tests matches to date, and bar that England win, have only won seven games, all against West Indies and Zimbabwe.

They now go up against India, over 500 Tests old, and on a run of unprecedented success. Under Virat Kohli, the team has won 14 of 22 Test matches, beating Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, then South Africa at home, and in 2016, West Indies in the West Indies, and New Zealand and England at home – all pretty comprehensively. Of late, they have been unbeaten, and looked unbeatable, especially at home.

Now the two teams clash in a rare and, from Bangladesh’s point of view, historic Test match.

But where is that old bonhomie?

When did things start going wrong between India and Bangladesh?

Was it when Rohit Sharma finger-wagged and MS Dhoni shoulder-barged an out-of-line Mustafizur Rahman?

Or was it when Rubel Hossain was no-balled for that full-toss to Rohit?

Or much before, when Virender Sehwag called Bangladesh an “ordinary” side?

Or more recently, when Taskin Ahmed was called for a suspect action and sections of the Bangladeshi press suggested it was India’s handiwork?

It wasn’t when social media circles in Bangladesh put out that illustration of Taskin war-crying with Dhoni’s severed head in his hand. Or before that, when the photo of half the Indian players with their heads semi-shaved by the ‘Mustafiz Cutter’ made the rounds. Those were just expressions of the wider anger in Bangladeshi cricket circles about India, the subcontinental bully who – they felt – did little to help cricket in their country when they could so easily have.

If there’s more to the rift between the two teams – real or perceived – it’s difficult to put a finger on it. Lots of Bangladeshis feel hard done by at the fact that their team has never played a Test match in India yet, when those in the know even in Bangladesh admit that it’s because inviting India over instead was more commercially viable.

From India’s point of view, perhaps there is nothing to all this; they usually have bigger fish to fry than Bangladesh. But considering the smaller team’s recent rise and the number of times in the shorter formats that they have run India close, the February contest in Hyderabad is one Bangladesh will enter into feeling equal. And very desperate to win.

India will go in knowing that. No top player or team underestimates any opposition. And Bangladesh are the ones who knocked India out of the 2007 World Cup – one of their great days. These visitors are also going to be more at home in Hyderabad than, say, England, New Zealand or South Africa were.

Bangladesh have messed it up at the close often, most memorably during the World Twenty20 Super 10 game in early 2016 in Bangalore when they needed just two runs to win from three balls, started celebrating madly, and then proceeded to lose three wickets in three balls to go down. That’s typical – promising so much and then delivering so little.

Quite the opposite of India, especially New India.

Now, as we turn the page to the next chapter in this story of no little intrigue, one hopes Bangladesh can deliver over five days: They can if they pull it all together. If they can push this game into the final fifth, irrespective of the outcome, the rivalry will be worth celebrating. But no severed heads please!

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