Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Champions Trophy: India rivalry with Bangladesh friendly but with more than a hint of needle

Expect rising temperatures if Friday’s India-Bangladesh semi-final is a close affair, writes Dileep Premachandran
Bangladesh bowler Rubel Hossain, second right, gives India's batsman Virat Kohli a send-off after dismissing him cheaply during their 2015 Cricket World Cup quarter-final match in Melbourne on March 19, 2015. William Est / AFP
Bangladesh bowler Rubel Hossain, second right, gives India's batsman Virat Kohli a send-off after dismissing him cheaply during their 2015 Cricket World Cup quarter-final match in Melbourne on March 19, 2015. William Est / AFP

Just over two weeks ago, India and Bangladesh played a warm-up match in the build up to the Champions Trophy.

Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya smashed the bowling as India piled up 324, before Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav took six wickets inside eight overs to end the contest. Bangladesh lost by 240 runs, and few could have imagined then that the same sides would be squaring off in one of the semi-finals.

In a group where only England exhibited any consistency, Bangladesh certainly enjoyed the rub of The Oval green, escaping with a point in a match dominated by Australia’s bowlers.

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But there was nothing fortuitous about the win against New Zealand, where they rebounded from 33-4 thanks to marvellous centuries from Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah.

Against India, the onus will be as much on Bangladesh’s pace bowlers. No team have yet managed to contain India’s batsmen, and Shakib will hope that his bowling group can emulate the first 30 overs of the 2015 World Cup quarter-final, when Bangladesh were immaculate with their lines and lengths.

What happened thereafter was more a reflection of their lack of experience in big games than an indictment of their skills. Rohit Sharma rode his luck to a big hundred, and the bowlers did the rest.

Mustafizur Rahman, who made his ODI debut a few months after that match, inspired a home series win against India, but it is Rubel Hossain that might be the key man on Thursday.

Rubel and Virat Kohli first became acquainted in the Under 19s. There were a few incidents when they played a tournament in South Africa, and the needle between the two was evident in Rubel’s contorted-face celebration on dismissing Kohli cheaply at the World Cup.

India’s captain is a much more mellow man these days – the Test series against Australia was an anomaly – and he played down any talk of grudges, insisting in this news conference that “it was 24 months ago”.

Chandika Hathurasingha, whose coaching has been as integral to Bangladesh’s rise as the experience accumulated by a gifted generation of players, will try and ensure that his charges stay cool, especially against an India team seldom fazed by the marquee occasion.

But with the two sides having fought out a titanic game at the World Twenty20 in March 2016, expect rising temperatures if it is a close game.

On paper, it should not be. The conditions at Edgbaston should suit India’s pace bowlers, and with Ravichandran Ashwin having been restored to the side against South Africa, India have most bowling bases covered. They also have the competition’s form batsman, Shikhar Dhawan, who seems intent on repeating his exploits from four years ago, when he was Player of the Tournament.

Kohli has twice topped 80, without looking close to his best, while the middle order has barely had a hit.

With even Bhuvneshwar having made a first-class century, this is a side that bats deep. With the top four all among the runs, even the likes of MS Dhoni have spent most of their time watching from the pavilion.

There was a time when many Indians would have looked on this game indulgently, with Bangladesh’s progress evoking memories of Indian cricket’s watershed years in the 1980s.

But in recent times, with social-media trolls to the fore, a once-friendly rivalry has acquired a nasty, jingoistic edge.

So far, the players on both sides have stayed away from such nonsense, but if the game goes to the wire, some of that online ugliness could spill over on to the field.

Players like to pretend they do not follow what is written or tweeted, but in reality, their bubbles are not impervious to popular sentiment.

sports@thenational.ae

Updated: June 14, 2017 04:00 AM

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