S. Ram Mahesh
A full house is expected at the Queen's Park Oval for Saturday's clash
Dravid's side has been helped by the return of key playersMortaza has built a reputation of scalping big heads in big games
Port of Spain: Almost a week into the World Cup, India begins its campaign on Saturday with a group match against Bangladesh here at the Queen's Park Oval.
Much has been said of Group B some believe the three sub-continental sides, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh constitute the toughest group in the preliminary stage; those with a taste for the regurgitated cliche have labelled it the Group of Death.
On form and horse sense, however, India should be able to deal adequately with Bangladesh. Rahul Dravid's side has been helped by the return, either from exile or from injury, of key players. In both warm-up games, India has been professional, and when the situation mandated it ruthless. Bangladesh has rarely unhinged India; Saturday won't be different.
Or will it? Habibul Bashar, the Bangladesh captain, said in his mellow manner that his side has reached a stage where contempt or indifference will be fatal for any opposition. There is much to be commended about those who speak softly but carry a stout stick.
Bashar's stout stick is Bangladesh's defeat of New Zealand a New Zealand side still in the wake of the Chappell-Hadlee series, mind you by two wickets in a warm-up game.
The side benefited in the chase of a middling target from using 13 players-a-side it allowed Rajin Saleh, a specialist batsman, to bat at eight. That shouldn't, however, detract from the victory.
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said on Thursday that Bangladesh was reaping the benefits of being around top-class teams. Bashar believes inflection isn't far off.
Mashrafe Mortaza was the impact player in the two-wicket win over New Zealand. He took four wickets and hit crucial sixes at the crunch. Mortaza is the best fast bowler from the lesser sides and the one most likely to trouble India on a strip, which on Thursday evidenced estimable pace and unstinting carry.
Just 23, Mortaza has built a reputation of scalping big heads in big games Adam Gilchrist for a second-ball duck during Bangladesh's victory over Australia in 2005 for instance.
The early start has ensured, thus far in the tournament at least, a better balance between bat and ball. How this dynamic affects India will be one of many fascinating games within the game on Saturday.
Captain Rahul Dravid has maintained that India's bowling has the variety to work around any difficulty a playing surface might pose.
Indeed, Zaheer Khan's return has simultaneously armed Dravid with a striker up front and a yorker-dispenser at the death. He has in Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar, S. Sreesanth, and Irfan Pathan, fast-medium men of differing method, pace, personality, form, and temperament.
Pathan offers Dravid his best chance of playing five bowlers. Will Dravid play him though? Statistically if nothing else the left-armer has been successful in the practice games. He has shown that he hasn't lost his inswinger to the right-hander but his pace has been distinctly underwhelming.
Former coach John Wright suggested that his non-bowling arm is dropping too soon. Other experts have found fault with his grip, his delivery stride, his run-up.
It's a wonder and a testament to his mental strength that Pathan continues to bowl. Swing bowling is an art, and, like most arts, maintains a tenuous relationship with insecurity. A smidgeon keeps from satiation, which is detrimental; a little more and it's all-consuming.
There has been talk of India going in with four bowlers the six-one-four combination as it were. Again, two spinners or one? How will India field? Does the side really enter every match with a deficit its batsmen and bowlers need to make up?
Will Virender Sehwag pass muster? Will he get a game? How will Sachin Tendulkar go? The questions, as is often the case with previews, outnumber the answers. Saturday will resolve some, raise others.
A full house is expected: the Queen's Park Oval with its new bucket seats, its imposing pavilion rubble less than a year ago and its touched-up stands named after luminaries such as Learie Constantine deserves nothing less.
The teams (from): India: Rahul Dravid (capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Ajit Agarkar, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Irfan Pathan and S. Sreesanth.
Bangladesh: Habibul Bashar (capt.), Shariar Nafees, Tamim Iqbal, Aftab Ahmed, Saqibul Hasan, Mohammad Ashraful, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mohammad Rafique, Abdur Razzak, Mashrafe Mortaza, Shahadat Hossain, Tapash Baisya, Syed Rasel, Rajin Saleh and Javed Omar.
Umpires: Field: Aleem Dar and Steve Davis; TV: Ian Howell; Match referee: Alan Hurst.
Hours of play (IST): 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. and 11.15 p.m. till close.