Pink ball Tests finally arrive in India
It was business as usual and pretty much everything we expected when India’s juggernaut kept rolling along to take victory by a crushing innings and 130 runs margin at Indore last week. India on home soil have become an impressive and invincible force and seeking value away from an India win is simply not worthwhile.
That said, the Second Test at Kolkata does, almost literally, throw in a curve ball. It will be the first time either India or Bangladesh will play a day/night Test match with a pink ball. Some say that brings Bangladesh a puncher’s chance if they find themselves bowling when the ball does a bit more in the twilight periods. India’s pedigree against a moving ball has been found wanting but there is an obvious counter to those that think Virat Kohli’s team might be found wanting. And that is that Bangladesh are not great in such conditions either and you’d be crazy to back Bangladesh’s seam attack over India’s.
So, it should be business as usual for India as they bid to cement another straight series win on home soil. James Buttler finds the best bets across the five days in Kolkata.
The pink ball faces toughest Test yet
There have been plenty of Day/Night games played with a pink ball around the world, some would say with mixed results. It can be difficult for the crowd to see it when struck across the outfield and there have been low scores posted. It’s the dusk period where the bowlers can get additional assistance from a ball that can suddenly develop of mind of its own. Then again, sport under lights is special, Test cricket needs a shot in the arm in the Subcontinent and the later start potentially opens the game up to a wider audience.
The MCC have invested a lot of time and energy in developing pink ball cricket and with India about to play a Test through the evening for the first time it is a major moment for advocates of this slightly changed format. India are the most powerful cricket nation administratively and if they don’t take to the pink ball it will be a backward step for Day/Night cricket.
The weather could influence scoring
Cyclone Bulbul has struck Kolkata in the run up to the Test and that has meant that the groundsman’s pitch preparations have been hampered. Plenty of rain has fallen on the city in November. The forecast is fine for the five days of the Test itself, but with a potentially under-prepared track and pink balls in the equation, the scores may be a little under what we have seen from India in recent times.
The second Test will be held at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
There’s no getting away from it…
India are an extraordinary side. I’ve often been critical of Virat Kohli’s captaincy on the pitch. I find him a bit reactive and emotional. But there is no denying that he is evolving in that regard and off the pitch his impact has been more positive than any India captain before him. The desire, fitness levels and positive culture that Kohli has engendered has become the foundation for his side’s consistency.
India will need to prove themselves abroad but there is a reason that they are miles ahead at the top of the ICC Test Rankings. They are the best side in the world by a mile.
Mayank Agarwal has taken his chances
Agarwal scored a splendid 243 in the First Test against Bangladesh and has seized his opportunity to nail down the opener role in the Indian side since he made his debut on Boxing Day. At 28, the right-hander has waited for his turn and, after making three fifties in his first four Tests, has hit three centuries in his next four, including two double tons. He averages 71.50 and has shown a willingness to bat long and not rest on his laurels.
Agarwal, along with a reborn Rohit Sharma as his opening partner, has provided the missing piece in the top order jigsaw. With Virat Kohli, Chetashwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane following in the middle-order this India side now have five reliable players who can all go big.
Of course, the Test of Agarwal and the rest will be when they leave their own conditions. In their own backyard, however there is no side in world cricket with such a batting order as ferocious and consistent. The downside for fans wanting to watch them all bat is their success usually means we only see India have one big innings per Test. They then bowl their opponents out twice and move on.
Looking for a top India batsman in the Second Test and it could be any one of that formidable top five. It is time to play for value and with Pujara and Rahane the outsiders of the Indian top guns, divide your stake across the pair. They are too good not to come land this market sometime soon.
Another double century?
Agarwal’s double won us a bet in the First Test and playing for another Test double may be worthwhile. Agarwal’s 243 was the fourth successive Test where an India batsman had gone past 200, for the first time ever. Rohit Sharma (212 in Ranchi), Virat Kohli (254 in Pune) and Agarwal (215 in Visakhapatnam) preceded the last Test. The pink ball may not get in the way of India making it five in a row. They have the batting to do it.
Dipping pink balls in water the ideal preparation
We’ve all been there guys! As Ajinkya Rahane tweeted “Already dreaming about the historic pink ball test,” while lying in bed with a pink cricket ball on his pillow, the Bangladesh side were preparing by dipping balls in water to replicate the dewy conditions they may be faced with in the twilight at the Eden Gardens.
Both sides have talked up their hard work in preparation for the Kolkata Test as they step into the unknown, but it is Bangladesh that need to bounce back. The Tigers have not won either of the two Tests played under coach Russell Domingo and were never remotely competitive last week. Domingo has called for a culture shift in Bangladesh cricket to follow the transformation of Indian cricket. He has particularly highlighted India’s ability to trust the pacemen in home conditions, whereas Bangladesh are still reliant on spin.
The new skipper Monimul Haque has been handed somewhat of a poisoned chalice. He has been forced into the role by the ban imposed on star allrounder Shakib Al Hasan, which has not only denied Bangladesh of a captain, but also the best player. Monimul received criticism after the Indore Test for electing to bat first, only to be rolled over for 150. It was unfair on the new skipper. The only way to compete with India was to bat first and try an exert some kind of scoreboard pressure. The simple truth is that Monimul’s side, also missing Tamim Iqbal as opener, is not in the same class as India.
Monimul is making the right noises. He has seen the advantages the new World Test Championship brings to a country like Bangladesh. They will now play more Tests and will surely make them a stronger unit.
Have Tigers got any teeth?
As a team Bangladesh are not a realistic bet to win a Test match in India. But the batting and bowling markets are of interest. Of the young side taking on the Indians, Mushfiqur Rahim is the best batsman and top scored in the First Test with 43 and 64. Monimul Haque made 37 and 7 and it is too early to see whether the captaincy is curtailing or inspiring his talents.
If not playing Mushfiqur, Liton Das may be worth a punt. The wicketkeeper batsman made 21 and 36 last week and is as capable as anyone above him at an attractive price.
I left the Bangladesh bowling markets alone last week as it appeared too much of a lottery. Abu Jayed took four wickets in India’s only innings and showed enough to suggest he is worth backing again.
Mohammad Shami into world top 10
Shami was superb in the First Test. He recorded figures of 3-27 and 4-31 to lift himself into the top 10 of the ICC World Test bowling rankings for the first time. He is also a bowler that could get help from the pink ball if it moves around.
If new to the markets, I’d be sticking with the tried and trusted Ravi Ashwin to land the Indian bowling market again. The spinner took five wickets last week and the pink ball still turns. Ashwin should not be ignored. If, like me, you are already on Ashwin to be top series bowler, play Shami to repeat his first Test heroics.