The Indian cricket team will get an opportunity to test its bench strength when its fringe players led by Suresh Raina square off against minnows Bangladesh in a short three-match ODI series starting, in Mirpur on Sunday.
The decision by the BCCI to rest seven key players including skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his deputy Virat Kohli and premier batsman Rohit Sharma provides the likes of Robin Uthappa, Manoj Tiwary, Parveez Rasool and Akshar Patel a chance to showcase their skills against a Bangladesh side led by the gutsy Mushfiqur Rahim.
However, the absence of Dhoni and Co has definitely taken the much-needed sheen off the series which incidentally has also coincided with the FIFA World Cup making it even more inconsequential from a viewer’s perspective.
Such has been the lack of interest, that none of the top Indian broadcasters till date have committed to air the series live in India.
The last-minute negotiations are still on to beam it live across the Indian sub-continent but there has been no concrete result till now.
This is the official start of the new international season as far as India is concerned and the players would like to hit the straps straightaway coming from a two-week break after a hectic Indian Premier League assignment.
As far as cricketing interest is concerned, this is one of those innumerable series sandwiched in the already over-burdened ICC’s Future Tours and Programmes (FTP) calender.
The stakes will, however, be high for the Indian reserves, most of whom would see this opportunity as a God-send one.
With barely eight months left for 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, a few places are still up for grabs which will keep some of the members of this team interested.
For Raina, who had another good IPL, it will be a comeback of sorts having been dropped from the ODI squad during Asia Cup. He would be itching to get into the thick of things with some substantial knocks.
The centre of attention will be burly Karnataka batsman Robin Uthappa making a comeback into the side after six years in the wake of a stupendous IPL, where he won the coveted ’Orange Cap’ by virtue of being the highest run-getter.
A couple of good scores will certainly put Shikhar Dhawan under pressure before the selectors announce the ODI squad for England in August.
For Cheteshwar Pujara, who has been dubbed as a Test specialist, this will effectively be his last chance to stay in the mix for a slot as far as the World Cup squad is concerned.
While Uthappa and Ajinkya Rahane are slated to open the batting, Pujara is likely to come in at No 3 followed by skipper Suresh Raina at No 4.
It will be a three-way tussle between Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu for the next two slots in the middle-order as wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha is certain to take the No 7 slot.
While Tiwary has recently been named India A captain for a tour of Australia, he will be slightly ahead of Rayudu and Jadhav for fifth specialist batsman’s slot.
Rayudu, with his experience of playing 10 ODIs, is likely to pip Jadhav for the sixth and final specialist batsman’s slot in the playing XI.
While Uthappa has kept wickets in the T20 version regularly, it is unlikely that the team management would want him to don the big gloves in the 50-over format with a potent keeper like Wriddhiman at their disposal.
The two pace-bowling slots will go to Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma as the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium wicket will warrant playing two spinners.
Senior leg-spinner Amit Mishra, after his surprise exclusion from the Test squad in England, will be keen to prove the selectors wrong. The second spinner’s slot will be a toss-up between ‘Find of IPL’ Akshar Patel and Jammu and Kashmir’s Rasool.
There is very little to choose between the two as both of them have done well in domestic circuit and are capable of using the long handle to good effect.
For Bangladesh team, under their new coach Chandika Hathurasinghe, it will be redemption time after their inglorious exit from the group league stage of the ICC World T20 in their homeland.
Consistency has been their bane for the better part of the last decade and they will again depend on their seasoned trio of Rahim, all-rounder Shakib-al Hasan and opener Tamim Iqbal to guide the team against the Indians.
It will be a series where even if the Indian team wins 3-0, it won’t count for much with the big ticket series against England coming up in four weeks time.
But for Bangladesh, even a 2-1 series win will mean a lot after a string of defeats in recent times.
As their skipper Rahim put it aptly during a news conference, two weeks back when he stated, “If we win, it will be India and not India A, who will lose the series.”
It was a comment made in the wake of BCCI deciding to rest most of its senior fresh players keeping an eye on the gruelling five-Test series against England.
Irrespective of the stakes, one can expect a tough contest between the two teams over the next five days.
India: Suresh Raina (captain), Robin Uthappa, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Akshar Patel, Amit Mishra, Mohit Sharma, Umesh R Vinay Kumar, Parveez Rasool, Stuart Binny.
Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Anamul Haque, Shamsur Rahman, Mominul Haque, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Mahmudullah, Mithun Ali, Abdur Razzak, Masrafe Mortaza, Shohag Gazi, Ziaur Rahman, Al-Amin Hossain, Taskin Ahmed.