1 Test, Dhaka
As I write this, the first 11 of the new-look young Indian test team—perhaps the first test team in the last 20 years without a single senior batsman (no batsman averages higher than 46)—reads Dhawan (replacing unwell KL Rahul), Vijay, Rohit (replacing Pujara), Kohli, Rahane, Saha (in place of the retired Dhoni), Ashwin, Harbhajan (playing his first test in two years), Ishant, Yadav, Aaron. There’s no Shami, who is still injured, while Bhuvi and Karn have been ignored to incorporate raw pace into the side. Apparently, that’s the way captain Kohli likes things—pacey, with 5 bowlers, and his apparent ‘tussle’ with Pujara may have resulted in him placing immense faith in Rohit (fresh from yet another successful T20 season) over the Indian no. 3.
Pujara has been playing well for Yorkshire, on at first glance, it seems wrong that Rohit has replaced him at a specialist batting position. It also seems wrong that Harbhajan is back in a side that thrives on youth, but that’s a long-argued story.
This test may not be important in the long-term scheme of things, but this is probably the strongest Bangladesh side that India will face. And this is arguably the most inexperienced Indian side to travel in a while. Dhaka is overcast and fueled by home support. This should be remember as the first test match of the full-blown Kohli era, or the post-Dhoni era in tests. Kohli has already said all the right things leading up to this test. His intentions are aggressive and everything that fans want to hear: He wants to win more tests at any cost. He doesn’t want to use the excuse of ‘learning’ and ‘process’ after every loss (MSD’s favourite terms). Time to win more, and go for wins even at the cost of losses. From the looks of things, draws could be few and far between under Kohli. Fans won’t mind the odd loss, if the attitude is right. New Zealand, under McCullum, has set the marker for such cricket, and Kohli could be the next to follow suit.
That said, Bangladesh has played 4 spinners to India’s two. Fortunately, there is no Raina in the test side. One suspects that if Raina had played better in domestic T20 cricket, he’d have been considered too. If Rohit fails at 3 this match, he could still be given more chances, considering the sub-continental schedule ahead.
Playing Yadav and Aaron in the same team is self-defeating, with barely any accuracy to play with, while Ishant hasn’t really gone past the usual one-spell-per-season trend in a while. The bowling doesn’t look too polished, but banks on raw pace and intimidation. Aaron and Yadav are India’s fastest bowlers. Harbhajan is the only one to have played more than 100 tests in a side that had gotten used to falling to the follies of senior mistakes/exertion.
Whatever the result, India’s test team will take time to settle into a combination that can win games. This is rebuilding, in the pure sense of the term. Once Harbhajan is accorded this final test opportunity, perhaps they can turn to a leg spinner to drive home Kohli’s philosophy.