Kohli keen to carry momentum from recent success into Bangladesh clash, even as Dhoni's fitness keeps team guessing
If the fitness status of MS Dhoni was keeping the Indian camp guessing, Mustafizur Rahman’s presence in the Bangladesh line-up was all the talk the day before the first fixture of the main draw of the 2016 Asia Cup Twenty20 tournament, which kicks off with Bangladesh v India in Mirpur on Wednesday (February 24).
Mustafizur created as big a splash as can be when he broke records in the bilateral One-Day International series in Bangladesh in June last year, when he picked up 13 wickets in three games as Bangladesh won 2-1. That was 50-50 cricket, where Bangladesh was pretty much unbeatable all of last year, especially at home. His variations, the cutters and dippers and yorkers, all bowled at speeds ranging from 100 kph to 140 kph, have left batsmen in a bind since then. Bangladesh has other players of class as well, but it’s Mustafizur that everyone is focusing on.
Mashrafe Mortaza talked the youngster up, saying that Mustafizur “is going to be tough to pick, at least for a while longer, because he can do things other bowlers can’t”. Virat Kohli, who would be leading India in case Dhoni were to sit out, was equally full of praise for the boy. “It was exciting to see a 19-year-old, bowling slower balls and touching 140 clicks; he came on board and did really well. It was different for us as well to experience. He spiced the game up a bit more, which is always exciting,” said Kohli.
There’s more in that Bangladesh bowling arsenal, though. Mortaza and Al-Amin Hossain are likely to partner Mustafizur for the opening game, with either Taskin Ahmed or Abu Hider adding pace, or Arafat Sunny coming in with his left-arm spin depending on the conditions. Shakib Al Hasan and the other part-timers will perform spin duties if and when needed.
That attack now comes up against one of the best batting line-ups around. Even in the possible absence of Dhoni, no one would take Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Suresh Raina and the like lightly. India is a pro in the T20 game because of its years of experience at the Indian Premier League and even though it struggled when South Africa came calling late last year, the 3-0 whitewash away in Australia and the 2-1 win over Sri Lanka at home since have not only given the team a settled look, the confidence has gone up as well, and provided the team “with a lot of momentum, which we want to carry with us”, as Kohli put it.
To that end, as Kohli admitted, being without Dhoni would be a blow, as the team wants to field its best XI at the Asia Cup keeping in mind the upcoming ICC World Twenty20, for which the Asia Cup is a preparatory series in many ways. Dhoni, who suffered back spasms on Monday, was at training on Tuesday, keeping an eye on proceedings without getting too involved, while Parthiv Patel reached Dhaka only in the afternoon and was given the day off from training.
Even if Dhoni were to miss out, India is the favourite for the Asia Cup, a tag that sits quite well on the men. Kohli, however, wasn’t happy to play the favourites game, using the widely acknowledged argument that there can’t be any underdogs in a T20 game: "Every team is as dangerous in the T20 format, I don’t think any team holds the advantage."
Bangladesh aren’t only about its bowling, though, nor is India only about its batting. The same way Mustafizur & Co. are expected to compete hard against the star-filled Indian batting, R Ashwin, Ashish Nehra and ‘mystery pacer’ Jasprit Bumrah, as well as Ravindra Jadeja are a strong unit, and they are expected to take on the Bangladesh batting led by the likes of Shakib, Mahmudullah and Soumya Sarkar. The gap there for Bangladesh is by the absence of Tamim Iqbal, the dasher at the top of the order, who had a wonderful run at the Pakistan Super League, but is on leave for the Asia Cup because of the birth of his child.
Bangladesh should be happy with his replacement nonetheless – Imrul Kayes comes in on the back of a stellar performance at the recent Bangladesh Premier League, where he finished second on the run-getters’ list with 312 runs from 12 innings, behind only Kumar Sangakkara.
It should be a good contest for sure, especially seeing that the action is in Bangladesh’s backyard and in a format that takes away the gap among teams to a great extent. Bangladesh's recent run in T20Is hasn’t been great – its last series, against Zimbabwe at home, ended 2-2 – but as Mortaza argued, “If you look at our ranking, it’s not up to the mark in T20s, but something has to change and we’d like to start from this tournament.”
If that happens, a good number at the 24,000-capacity Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur should have a grand time.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Abu Hider, Al-Amin Hossain, Arafat Sunny, Imrul Kayes, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Mithun, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mustafizur Rahman, Nasir Hossain, Nurul Hasan, Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Taskin Ahmed.
India: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pawan Negi, Ashish Nehra, Hardik Pandya, Parthiv Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh.