By Kanishkaa Balachandran/NIA
In 2000, Bangladesh played its first ever Test, hosting India to mark the occasion. In 2017, India are finally returning the favor.
The irony is hard to miss. The same country that helped Bangladesh join the elite club of teams that play Test matches is finally hosting them, in 2017. Pay attention to the last bit. Bangladesh will play its first ever Test match in India, at Hyderabad, starting Thursday. Why this has been as many as 17 years in the making is a question that will always be asked.
Way back in 2000, Bangladesh made its Test match debut, against India in Dhaka. It was a one-off game that India won inside four days. Over the next decade and a half, every other Test playing country has hosted Bangladesh for a Test series. Yet, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), for most part, never considered it worth its time to send an invite to their next door neighbours. It was only in 2016 when plans for a Test at home against Bangladesh were being firmed up. The then BCCI president, when announcing plans for a bumper home season with plenty of Tests, said it was the BCCI’s responsibility to give every Test nation its due. Whether he was being apologetic on behalf of previous regimes is anyone’s guess, but he must have realised that it was now or never.
Even Australia, another country whose attitude to Bangladesh matches that of India’s, has hosted Bangladesh for a Test series. Bangladesh meanwhile has opened its doors to India over the years, hosting short Test series and one-day tournaments. The financial benefits any series against India offers was never lost on the Bangladesh Cricket Board. The sale of TV rights brings in heaps of money to the host cricket boards, so the more India tours, the better it is for Bangladesh. Yet, the BCCI had been reluctant to return the favour.
One of the reasons given for this is that weaker Test teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are harder to market. Public interest won’t be as high, as opposed to teams like England and Australia. A Test series against Bangladesh may end up being a loss-making series, but given that the BCCI has had the deepest pockets in world cricket for a while now, would it have made much of a difference? It would have been a small price to pay. It was obviously a case of the BCCI behaving like a bullying big brother. For now, thankfully, they have turned a new leaf.
In the late 1990s, the then BCCI president, JagmohanDalmiya, was contesting for the post of ICC president. In order to gain a precious extra vote, he helped grant Test status to Bangladesh so they would vote in his favour. Whether they were ready to play Test cricket seemed irrelevant at that stage. One man’s selfish agenda prevailed. Bangladesh suffered, looking out of depth as a Test team for years, competing in brief spurts before collapsing.
In the last three years, though, Bangladesh have shown more fight, stretching Test matches to five days rather than three, making stronger teams work harder. Recently, they beat England for the first time, and were within touching distance of winning the series. In New Zealand, they scored 595 in a Test. That they actually lost the Test after scoring that much was quite a shocker, but at least they showed they are capable of batting for longer periods.
Their match against India will be their toughest yet. India are in the middle of a dream home season, having blanked out New Zealand and England. Anything less than a win for India against Bangladesh will be considered a defeat. The batting, led by Virat Kohli, is a fortress. So much so that even Karun Nair, who scored a triple-hundred against England recently, isn’t sure of keeping his place in the team, with Ajinkya Rahane returning from injury.
Where Bangladesh are capable of matching India, is spin bowling. Shakib Al Hasan, Mehdi Hasan Miraz and Mahmudullah can be a handful if the conditions suit them. If the pitch turns sharply, India better watch out. One Bangladesh player unfortunate to miss out, due to injury, is the left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman. Rahman is their biggest sensation in the last two years, having got on top of the best batsmen in the world in one-day matches. Still, Bangladesh will bank on spin.
India are favourites but it will make for compelling viewing if Bangladesh can bat and bowl well enough to stretch this game to the full five days.
(The featured picture at the top shows Bangladesh players celebrating their victory over England.Photo: Getty Images)