Seven positives India can take from Fatullah draw
Tapabrata Banerjee identifies seven positives that India can take from what on the face of it looked like a damp and drab draw in their recent Test match against Bangladesh in Fatullah.
It was the first Test match for India after a gap of six months, but with only 185 overs played out of a possible overs it is very difficult to draw any conclusion about the team’s performance.
However, there are few small gains for Indian team which they need to nurture during the long season of home and away Test matches coming up.
The one-off Test against Bangladesh in Fatullah was the first full Test series for the new Indian captain
Virat Kohli and most of the pre-match buzz was around the style of leadership he will show and the brand of cricket his team will play.
All eyes were on Virat Kohli, India's new Test captain
Kohli definitely explained his attacking intent through his interaction with the media. Unlike previous India teams, the final side was announced a day before the match which should have given the selected players a bigger window to concentrate and get into Test match mode.
The team selection also clearly illustrated the attacking mentality with five front line bowlers in the XI. Also the selection of bowlers were based on the opponent team’s strength and hence reacting to the higher number of left-hand batsmen in Bangladesh’s top order, India included two off-spinners in the team instead of a general trend of including two spinners of various bowling options.
Throughout the Test match India had the upper hand specially after Bangladesh’s plan of playing four spinners and only one medium pacer went terribly wrong with India batting first after winning the toss.
India’s batting was a start-stop affair with the entire second day’s play rained off along with three other rain breaks, one on day one and two on day three.
Despite all these rain breaks, three batting performances for India stand out.
Mural Vijay played the perfect foil to Shikhar Dhawan
Murali Vijay made his Test match debut in 2008 but it was only last year he finally established himself as one of the mainstays of India’s batting. In the last two years he has been the constant part of India’s opening combination and opened for India in South Africa, New Zealand, England, Australia and now in Bangladesh.
To his great credit he has improved with each tour and he finished the Australia series as the second leading run-scorer for India with an average of just above 60.
He played brilliantly in Fatullah for his 150. He played his role with perfection to act as second fiddle to Shikhar Dhawan when the later raced to 150 at the end of day one. Again he gave proper support to Ajinkya Rahane on day three during their partnership of 114 in 23 overs.
Vijay’s greatest improvement in the last two years is the ability to know which balls to leave alone. That’s a great strength for an opener and a key reason for his impressive performance.
Runs for Dhawan were a huge boost for the opener
Dhawan’s career progression was different from Vijay. He started with a bang with the fastest debut hundred in cricket history but his form declined in the last 12 months. His tendency to poke the moving ball just outside the off stump brought his downfall and he lost his place in the Test team.
Even in Fatullah he would not have been an automatic choice if KL Rahul would have been fit. But he grabbed his chance with both hands with an almost run-a-ball hundred. He and Vijay gave a grand start to India with a stand of 283 runs and made sure India was dominating the Test match from outset.
A solid opening partnership is absolutely essential for any team and thanks to Vijay and Dhawan India is also getting there. If they can maintain their form that would give captain Kohli at least one less thing to ponder during the Test matches against Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Ajinkya Rahane might have missed out on a century, but played beautifully
Another player who keeps on impressing everyone with his standout performances in all the formats is Ajinkya Rahane. He had a successful Test series in Australia with pivotal roles in both the drawn Test matches for India. He maintained his good form during the World Cup and followed it up by being one of the top run scorers in this year’s IPL.
Rahane played delightfully well in Fatullah to support the team’s cause of scoring quick runs and showed great commitment for the team cause when he got out on 98, trying to play a big shot instead of looking to reach his personal landmark. Harsha Bhogle, who was on the air at that time, rightly said, “Do not look at the two runs he did not score, look at the 98 he scored.”
In the bowling department, the spinners were key for making Bangladesh follow on. Ravichandran Ashwin bowled beautifully. In recent times, he fell back to more classical off spin bowling than his variations such as the carom ball and the results are showing.
Ravichandran Ashwin collected his 10th five-wicket haul in Tests
He kept the batsmen guessing the length of his delivery all the time and forced them to make mistakes. This was Ashwin’s 10th five-wicket haul in Test matches but most notably this is the first one outside India.
The other off-spinner, the experienced Harbhajan Singh, also had a successful comeback in after more than two years on the sidelines. He was definitely nervous to start with. His first spell of seven over was mediocre but as he kept bowling he started to get back his rhythm and ended with three wickets.
Harbhajan Singh made a return to the side after a long absence
He is now the ninth highest wicket taker in Tests after moving past Wasim Akram during this match. With all the remaining Test matches for India in 2015 scheduled to be played in Asia, Harbhajan is expected to get more chances to show whether he can bring his old magic back.
Lastly, the focus was on two more players in the team. With MS Dhoni’s retirement from Test matches everyone’s eye was on Kohli’s captaincy and Wriddhiman Saha’s wicket keeping.
Kohli displayed his attacking intentions through his field placements and keep changing his options to move the game forward. Although too many changes in bowling and fielding placements may give a feeling that the captain is not sure about what he is looking for, Kohli showed enough calmness to give a feeling that the situation was under control for him.
Wriddhiman Saha did nothing wrong in Fatullah
Such a rain-affected Test match can give only a slight idea of anyone’s captaincy and it will be a mistake to take any call on Kohli’s captaincy before the end of this year.
Saha was solid behind the stumps. Not only did he have three dismissals to show for his effort but his keeping down the leg-side was excellent. He gave enough indication as to why he is India’s number one choice after Dhoni. His innings was brief but with a heavy run scoring record in domestic cricket he is expected to come good if he can show the temperament required for Test match batting.
This India team is still going through a transitional phase. This Test match against Bangladesh may look like an inconsequential Test match now but may prove a vital point for India’s resurgence in the future.
© Cricket World 2015