At a time when the attention of all teams is building up to the ODI World Cup next year, there is another championship before it where qualification for the finals is heating up with every passing week.
As India, hit by multiple injuries of late including to captain Rohit Sharma, aim to play aggressive cricket, as said by stand-in skipper K.L. Rahul, against Bangladesh in the Test series opener at Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, the race to make it to the WTC final for them also returns in a phase where Test cricket is happening from the sub-continent to the southern hemisphere.
The away series defeat to South Africa and losing the Edgbaston Test in England has meant India are in fourth place on the WTC points table. If they are to make it to a second successive WTC final, to be held at The Oval in June 2023, they need to win at least five, if not all six of their remaining Tests, including four against Australia at home in February-March.
This is where the challenge for the Indian team is — wins and draws will work, but not a loss. 2022 has been a year in which India have won only two out of five Tests played this year — both those wins came against Sri Lanka at home in March.
Moreover, with no Rohit, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja, the task to get wins over slow turning pitches of Bangladesh and make up for the 2-1 ODI series loss becomes much more difficult.
With the Indian batters not being great players of spin as compared to the previous generation of Test batters, the task is cut out for the current batting line-up to succeed in the challenge coming from Bangladesh captain and left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan, off-spinner Mehidy Hasan Miraz and left-arm spinner Taijul Islam.
“There is a World Test championship (final) qualification so we will also have to be aggressive as well. We know where we stand and what we need to do to qualify for the final. Each day, each session we will have to assess what is required for the team in that particular moment and try to give our best and enjoy each day of Test cricket.”
“We won’t go in with any set mindset. There is a history of a certain venue. You look at the numbers and you take certain pointers from that. At least for us we will go there and try to be aggressive and brave, try and get a result,” said Rahul to reporters in a pre-series conference on Monday.
In Rohit’s absence, Rahul will likely open with Shubman Gill, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant occupying numbers three to six. Axar Patel could be picked to fill the void in Jadeja’s absence and pair up with Ravichandran Ashwin for spin-bowling duties.
In case India need three spinners, Kuldeep Yadav can add that variety. As far as the fast-bowling department is concerned, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj will be the first-choice picks, with Shardul Thakur as a possible third choice, though Jaydev Unadkat’s left-arm angle could make team management think about taking him.
While India are playing Tests after five months, Bangladesh are also returning to the fold after six months. Shakib, their talismanic captain, is having an injury concern after being hit on the ribs in the second ODI against Umran Malik, while Taskin Ahmed is ruled out due to recovery from a back injury.
The big challenge will be for their Test specialists Mahmadul Hasan Joy, Mominul Haque and Taijul Islam to find their groove immediately in red-ball cricket. With Tamim Iqbal also out due to injury, Bangladesh could give a debut to top-order batter Zakir Hasan, who got a call-up to the squad after his 173 saved Bangladesh A in a four-day match against India A last month.
India have never lost to Bangladesh in a Test match and the visitors would want to keep it intact at Chattogram and later in Dhaka to inch closer to sealing a WTC final spot.
India: KL Rahul (captain), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), KS Bharat (wicket-keeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Navdeep Saini, Saurabh Kumar and Jaydev Unadkat
Bangladesh: Mahmudul Hasan Joy, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque, Yasir Ali, Mushfiqur Rahim (wicket-keeper), Shakib Al Hasan (captain), Litton Das, Nurul Hasan, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taijul Islam, Taskin Ahmed, Khaled Ahmed, Ebadot Hossain, Shoriful Islam, Zakir Hasan, Rejaur Rahman Raja and Anamul Haque