The most important thing in any competitive situation is the result. So, at the end of five days of the one-off Test between India and Bangladesh which ended on Monday (February 13), the only thing that really mattered was the scoreline: a 208-run win for India. It was India’s sixth straight Test series win, which helped stretch their super recent record to 15 wins in 19 Tests without a single defeat.
Behind those big numbers were the details.
What helped the Indians pull off what was a comprehensive win on a pitch with little or nothing in it, and what could they have done better? What will Bangladesh, despite losing the Test, take away from their Indian experience?
Let’s start with the victors.
20 wickets on a flat pitch
The opposition was Bangladesh, but it’s a Bangladesh side that has recently put in very good performances at home against England and away in New Zealand, even though they lost both Test matches there. With R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the No. 1 and No. 2 bowlers respectively in the International Cricket Council rankings in the XI, picking up 20 wickets on an Indian ground shouldn’t have been tough. But it was.
The pitch just refused to break, even at the end of two sessions on the final day when the game ended. India still managed to close out the game and it wasn’t just Ashwin and Jadeja who did it. They shared 12 wickets equally, but standing tall in the Bangladesh first innings was Umesh Yadav and in the second Ishant Sharma. The two bowled their hearts out, bursting in at pace and getting the ball to reverse prodigiously, upsetting whatever hopes and plans Bangladesh had.
Virat Kohli might have been named man of the match, but in a different universe, Umesh and Ishant might well have shared that honour. And that’s a great portent for the upcoming series against Australia – with Mohammed Shami likely to be around and Bhuvneshwar Kumar also putting in a commendable show, Ashwin and Jadeja should get a lot of help from their faster colleagues.
82 & 106 not out – the comeback knocks
This Indian team believes in sticking with a core group of players and moving forward on their shoulders. There will be losses in form – if that happens, changes will be rung in. But if there are injuries and someone steps in, that’s all they will be doing – stepping in.
So out went Karun Nair from the XI and Parthiv Patel from the squad altogether, and Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha were back in.
It was Rahane’s turn first, and though he started circumspectly in the Indian first innings, he was soon looking good — stroking the ball freely and running his singles hard. He ended with 82 when he could have scored more, a stunning catch from Mehedi Hasan stopping his flight. He was good in scoring quickly in the second innings too, hitting 28 from 35 with two fours and a six when 50-over style batting was the order of the day.
As for his other specialisation, slip fielding, he was sharp as ever, the one-handed catch low to his right to send Soumya Sarkar back off Jadeja the pick of the three he got in the game.
Saha failed to collect a moderately straightforward delivery to miss a stumping when Jadeja had beaten Mahmudullah all ends up on the final afternoon, but he was quite special outside of that lapse. He missed nothing behind the stumps, whether off pacer or spinner, pulled off some excellent collections and, before all that, played a crucial innings in India’s first dig. It could have ended early, on four, but Mushfiqur Rahim fluffed an easy stumping chance. Saha was in full bloom after that. He brought up his second Test century – 106 not out in 155 balls in over three hours – and, more importantly, helped India build on the good work done by the top order.
It wasn’t the toughest of pitches to score on admittedly, but it needed to be done, and the two comeback men gave pretty decent accounts of themselves.
Kohli: Captain Creative
Forget his batting – Virat Kohli goes big most often when he walks out these days, whatever the format – it was his imaginative captaincy that stood out in this Test, especially in the final innings of the match.
No, it didn’t always work, but if the job of the captain is to attempt different things and try to make things happen on the cricket field, then Kohli scored handsomely.
At different points on the fifth morning and afternoon, he got Jadeja to switch sides with vastly different combinations of close-in catchers. To the pacers, he offered two fielders deep on the leg-side for the pull and once, for Umesh, he tried three catchers for the flick. Just to make something happen.
Did he change things around too often? Possibly. Sometimes, a bowler needs to be given time to work with a new field. Kohli didn’t offer them that luxury. The patience thing he goes on about – maybe he will get the concept properly with time.
Room for improvement
Kohli: “The only thing we could have done better is close off the second innings quickly. I think there was a bit of lapse in body language when Bangladesh were eight down. We should have taken the chances (Saha’s missed stumping and M Vijay’s drop at first slip off Mehedi) and finished off the game early, 45 minutes before we actually did. I think those are the things we can take away from this game. We need to improve. Closing off games is important, especially in Test cricket. You don’t want to give opposition any chance to get back into the game.”
Over to Bangladesh …
The stomach for a fight
Losing the toss and being asked to field in a Test being played on a flat pitch isn’t the best situation to be in. It’s worse when the opposition, also the No. 1 team in the world, puts up 687 for 6 on the board. Bangladesh had it all stacked against them, but Shakib Al Hasan, Rahim and Mehedi were outstanding with their resistance in the first innings. In the final analysis, the 388 they helped put on the board wasn’t going to hurt India, but for underdogs to not give up – that’s where it all starts, doesn’t it?
A few good men in the batting line-up
None more so than Rahim, whose 127 in the first innings was a top-notch effort, but Shakib’s 82 and Mehedi’s 51 were good performances too, as were Soumya Sarkar’s elegant 42 and the under-pressure Mahmudullah’s rearguard 64 in the second innings. They might have failed to save the Test, but they are right up there, they showed that.
Not pushovers any more
Beating England, albeit at home on a pitch heavily in favour of their spinners, and then going and pushing New Zealand for the best part of three days in Wellington and Christchurch was evidence that Bangladesh were getting better. This is a breakthrough year for the team that hasn’t always – for a variety of reasons – gotten a chance to play Test cricket regularly against the top nations. After the England win, the show in New Zealand and the struggle they put up in Hyderabad, they will back themselves to do some good against Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, all of who they play in Test matches this year.
Lapses and loose ends
“Losing to India at tea time on the fifth day – it made us believe what we can achieve in coming days,” said Rahim after the game. Fair enough, but schoolboy errors won’t help. Some of the running in the first innings was terrible, chances were missed, by Rahim most glaringly, when India batted and there were rash strokes that led to wickets falling. It’s one thing to say the intention was right and the execution not so, but at the highest level, the frequency of such mis-executions should be lower, throwing away wickets at crucial junctures a complete no-no.
80,000 and counting
Too many people have for too long offered a simple bit of advice for bringing people in to the grounds for Test matches: Free entry, invite schools, fill the stands. Not many take the advice, but the Hyderabad Cricket Association did, and the difference was astounding. On Saturday and Sunday combined, close to 50,000 people attended the Test, and the other three days also had upwards of 10,000 people in attendance, many of them schoolchildren.
“Even in the England series, the crowds were outstanding. This was a weekend Test, so two days we expected people to come in. But for a Monday, the last day, the crowd was outstanding. I think the school kids really create that great atmosphere in the stadium,” said Kohli with a sparkle in his eye. “They are relentless. So much energy. Backing the team throughout. That always helps the team in difficult situations to push themselves. It’s good to have your home crowd behind you. What also matters is the game you play. If you’re trying to win the game from any situation, the crowd also knows that something is going to happen at some stage, and are excited too. So it’s a bit of give and take.”
That’s what Test cricket in India needs – it’s really a no-brainer, even if it doesn’t bring in money.