• Sach Aggarwal

Bangladesh in India Test Series | I believe in miracles, but not this time

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

First of all, let me take this opportunity to welcome you to The Wrong ‘Un. We’re really excited to be bringing our platform to you, and we hope you enjoy, engage with and contribute to our content. Just in time for the India-Bangladesh series, this piece should serve as a little preview of the forthcoming cricket, but also a little taster of what you can expect from me.

As Bangladesh get ready to begin their 𝚎̷𝚊̷𝚐̷𝚎̷𝚛̷𝚕̷𝚢̷ ̷𝚊̷𝚠̷𝚊̷𝚒̷𝚝̷𝚎̷𝚍̷ Test series against India tomorrow, the cricketing world (excluding India, of course) should probably divert their attention away from 𝚗̷𝚘̷𝚝̷ ̷𝚌̷𝚊̷𝚛̷𝚒̷𝚗̷𝚐̷ ̷𝚊̷𝚋̷𝚘̷𝚞̷𝚝̷ ̷𝚝̷𝚑̷𝚎̷ ̷𝚜̷𝚎̷𝚛̷𝚒̷𝚎̷𝚜̷ ̷𝚠̷𝚑̷𝚊̷𝚝̷𝚜̷𝚘̷𝚎̷𝚟̷𝚎̷𝚛̷ previewing the series, and instead, simply pray to any higher power you want that 𝚝̷𝚑̷𝚎̷ ̷𝚏̷𝚘̷𝚛̷𝚖̷𝚊̷𝚝̷ ̷𝚘̷𝚏̷ ̷𝚃̷𝚎̷𝚜̷𝚝̷ ̷𝚌̷𝚛̷𝚒̷𝚌̷𝚔̷𝚎̷𝚝̷ ̷𝚛̷𝚎̷𝚖̷𝚊̷𝚒̷𝚗̷𝚜̷ ̷𝚊̷𝚙̷𝚙̷𝚎̷𝚊̷𝚕̷𝚒̷𝚗̷𝚐̷ ̷𝚊̷𝚏̷𝚝̷𝚎̷𝚛̷𝚠̷𝚊̷𝚛̷𝚍̷𝚜̷ ̷ Bangladesh finish it without irreparable mental scarring.

To clarify, the previous paragraph was largely written in jest, and not intended as a slight on Bangladesh, this series, or Test cricket itself. Nor was I suggesting that Test cricket or this series are in any way pointless exercises not worth caring about. As I’m sure you will all find out in due course, I am Test cricket’s biggest fan – so much so that I can’t bear anything to do with the farcical nonsense the ECB are launching in 2020, lest it tarnish the sanctity of the longest form of our beloved game.

Yes, it is highly probable this series will be a one-sided affair and will offer us nothing that we don’t already expect. But I do also genuinely believe that it should be taking place. Not only would it be unfairly penal on Bangladesh, both financially and in terms of exposure against the big teams if we were to suggest otherwise, but it would go against every notion of growing and improving this wonderful game. The solution to improving competitiveness should not be to remove the competition.

However, it is important to be realistic about the magnitude of the task facing Bangladesh and look at the series with a wider perspective. You don’t need me to wax lyrical about India’s formidable home Test record, even though I’d love to (fret not, dear reader, this too shall happen very soon), but the stats speak for themselves: since 2013, their record stands at P32 W26 L1 D5, where two of these draws were severely rain-affected matches.

Anything less than emphatic wins will be a disappointment for India, so they will be seeing this series as a job that just needs to be done. Bish-bash-bosh, thank you very much, on to the next one.

Wriddhiman Saha is one player who will be looking to cement his place in the side as the premier wicketkeeper-batsman, especially with the young Rishabh Pant breathing down his neck. The superiority of his glovework is not in doubt, but in this day and age, competence behind the stumps on its own will not suffice. He’ll want to produce with the bat, but whether he will actually have the opportunity to is a matter that isn’t in his hands. Rohit Sharma will also want to continue his great form as an opener, but in truth, we won’t learn anything new about him in the position until a difficult tour outside of Asia.

On the other hand, we have Bangladesh. A team that consistently takes a few steps forwards, followed by even more backwards. A team that should be making strides towards being a mid-table Test side, at least. A team that should be focussing on getting the little things right that set the top teams apart from the rest, rather than being embroiled in (justifiable) contract disputes with their board.

Instead, they languish down at 9th in the ICC Test Rankings, just six points ahead of an Afghanistan side that played only its third Test in September. In fairness, Afghanistan won that Test convincingly by 224 runs and looked every bit a good side in the making. This would be a mitigating factor for Bangladesh, except for the small detail that it was them whom Afghanistan defeated.

All of this already paints a demoralising picture for The Tigers, before you take into account that they’re missing their wonderful counter-attacking opener Tamim Iqbal, who opted out of this series in order to be with his wife for the birth of their second child. Congratulations to him, first and foremost on what will be a fantastic occasion for him and his family, but also on escaping unharmed from the likely-ensuing disaster for his team. Also, fair play to him and his wife – they’ve timed this impeccably. He can thank the ICC Future Tours Program for the early heads-up, giving him the opportunity to plan nine months in advance.

Before you start feeling sorry for them, remember that this is Bangladesh we’re talking about; this is just the starter. Now, for the main course. If the Tamim-shaped hole is down to unfortunately-timed, but completely understandable, personal circumstances, the other best-player-in-your-country’s-history-shaped hole in the side is down to an utter shitshow.

Oh, Shakib, what have you done? As well as leading the team on the field, both as captain and with his performances, Bangladesh’s talisman was the spearhead of their dispute with the board over pay and conditions. He led them into an unprecedented strike which threatened to derail the tour of India before it had even started, and out the other end a few days later when the BCB assured the players that most of their demands would be met. It may sound cliché, but he had become more than just an exceptional player for the team on the field; he was an example and figurehead for his teammates off it as well.

And then came the miserable news that Shakib had been involved in a match-fixing scandal. Failure to report an approach by bookmakers the offense, a two-year ban (with one suspended) the penalty. There’s never an ideal time for these things to happen, but with the year that Bangladesh have had, it has to be one of the worst possible times. I feel sorry for Bangladesh cricket, and in some ways I can’t help but feel sorry for Shakib. But match-fixing has for too long been a dirty stain on the game that the authorities, for all their efforts, have not managed to properly remove. Every player is given extensive training and briefing on how to deal with such approaches, and given Shakib is one the eminent cricketers in the world, he really should have known better.

What we’ve ended up with is a team that was already in something of a rut, now with the backdrop of a match-fixing scandal, being led by a rookie captain, Mominul Haque, into a Test series against a team with one of the most daunting records in the history of the game. That too missing not two, but ‘three’ key players as their new captain puts it, because Shakib is 'two players in one'.

We love to see miracles in sport, and we’ve already had a handful of them this year. But Test cricket is an unforgiving arena that brutally amplifies differences in class between two sides. It is near-impossible to see Bangladesh getting anything at all out of this contest, and indeed no one expects them to. For them, it will be a case of damage limitation, and maybe even a chance to shine for other senior players and young players alike.

Finally, it is important to look at this series in a wider context. Much better teams than Bangladesh have gone to India and left battered, and this trend will continue long after Bangladesh leave. It’s an inevitable consequence of a behemoth cricketing nation possessing all the pieces to a puzzle, and finally knowing how to put them together in devastating fashion. But while it’s not all down to the flaws of the opposition, we must be wary of the imbalances within the sport. In other sports, we talk of miracles and gulfs in class when teams with 20, 30, 40 ranking places between them come together. In cricket, we have the conversation for 1st versus 9th. It won’t happen overnight, but for the sake of Test cricket, the ICC has to start addressing the inequities in the game sooner rather than later.

However, that is a matter to discuss far more deeply on another day. For now, let’s hope that if things do go as expected, it is due to an Indian masterclass rather than a Bangladeshi disasterclass.

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