India have never lost to Bangladesh in T20Is   © AFP
India have never lost to Bangladesh in T20Is © AFP

After Bangladesh beat Sri Lanka last week, stand-in skipper Mahmudullah  spoke about establishing a “new brand” of fearless cricket. The method is helping. They put up a strong show in their defeat against India. And on Friday, amid the flaring tempers, Bangladesh pulled off a sensational victory over Sri Lanka to set another date with India in the final of Nidahas Trophy 2018 at R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo.

(Trivia: This will be Bangaldesh’s first tournament final outside Dhaka. They have appeared in four so far, three in ODIs and one in T20Is)

The ‘fearlessness’ has been quite literal. Be it their approach in cricket or confidence in pulling off the Naagin dance celebrations or taking on the authorities.

Fearlessness is only a fraction of success, so is planning. And they work better with calmness and wisdom. Shakib Al Hasan  and most of his men certainly lacked the latter parts during their Friday’s win against Sri Lanka and that puts the ‘favourites’ tag on India.

India’s dominance

Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will walk into any sides in the world. India rested four of their best players for this tournament. A defeat in the first game, in the hands of the hosts Sri Lanka on a slower wicket acted as the eye-opener for the team that was coming back after nearly two months of cricket in South Africa, where surfaces were quicker and bouncier. The adjustments took a game but that was soon followed with three back-to-back wins.

The second string Indian side, led by Rohit Sharma, became the first team to qualify in the tournament final.

Bangladesh have never won a T20I against India. Their seven losses against India include two against this second string side. Second string or first, the fan expectations do not change. India and Bangladesh contests have found itself a different meaning since 2015 World Cup quarter-final and the aggression, especially from the latter, is more apparent.

India holding upper hand doesn’t change the fact that Bangladesh are few notches more lethal in familiar conditions. The other way of looking at things would be: India lost one and won one against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh won both.

Dinesh Karthik acknowledged the Bangla threat on the match eve and told, “We have a few of our other players missing, we are looking to play exactly the sort of cricket that we’ve played in the past one year. Bangladesh are a very good team especially in subcontinent conditions. They are known for their tenacity. They really try hard. They are team that achieved Test status not many years ago, and from there on they have propelled in all formats of the game and done well for themselves.”

India’s Likely XI

India’s opening jigsaw was solved with Rohit Sharma finding form in the previous game. Shikhar Dhawan has been the side’s best batsman after Virat Kohli since 2017. Suresh Raina  hasn’t looked back since comeback last month.

KL Rahul is likely to retain his place. Manish Pandey and the yet to be dismissed Dinesh Karthik  have been in good touch.

Yuzvendra Chahal leads the spin attack and his off-spin partner Washington Sundar has been the find of the series. With 7 wickets at 13.42 and an economy rate of 5.87, he has been the best bowler at display and exceptional during the Powerplay. He dismissed the Bangladeshi top three when the sides met the last time.

Sundar is probably the smartest teenage cricketer around and is destined for a bright future. He has a First-Class hundred and hasn’t got an opportunity to show his prowess with the bat.

Vijay Shankar has impressed, so has Shardul Thakur. Jaydev Unadkat has leaked runs but his wicket-taking abilities might get him the nod ahead of Mohammed Siraj.

India’s Probable XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Vijay Shankar, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Yuzvendra Chahal

Bangladesh’s opportunity

In the first half of the tournament, Bangladesh’s bowling let them down. However, they can draw heart from the fact that they restricted India and Sri Lanka under nine an over in the last two games. Their batting has been the strength apart from Soumya Sarkar and Sabbir Rahman’s indifferent form.

Shakib’s addition adds flair to all three disciplines. In fact, the Bangladesh camp scores quite high on experience with the presence of Shakib, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah, Rubel Hossain, Soumya, Sabbir and Mustafizur Rahman.

(Trivia: Shikhar and Rohit hadn’t debuted for India when Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur combined to beat India in 2007 World Cup. In fact, only Karthik and Raina had played international cricket from Indian camp)

Bangladesh’s experience gives them slight edge but it will be a task to match India’s skillset. They should target India’s bowling inexperience and apply pressure on them.

Mahmudullah is a MS Dhoni fan and he pulled off a feat of his idol with the finishing six off the penultimate ball against Sri Lanka. He had led the team well till this game but Shakib had almost played foil. Angry with umpires, he called back his men but senses prevailed at the end.

A relaxed mind under pressure is something Bangladeshis will also want to learn from Dhoni. Shakib spoke about being relaxed (something they desperately need post Friday’s unsavoury drama) and not taking pressure.

“We haven’t discussed the final so we are not thinking about it as pressure yet. This, I think, is a big realisation of how we are handling this game so far. If you think about pressure, it is pressure. If you don’t think about pressure, it is not pressure. I am sure everyone is relaxed, and if we can be like this till tomorrow’s match, it will be good for us.

“We are not thinking too far ahead. We have to be relaxed and open-minded. It is important to be mentally free to do well in T20s. I hope no one takes any pressure, and stays focused on the process. Everyone has a different mentality. I would hope that none of our players have that mental block. It would help us to play well. If we think it is a big final against India, then it is pressure. Rather, let’s think about a bat versus ball contest,” Shakib, whose anger almost conceded the game for Bangladesh on Friday, told reporters ahead of the final.

Bangladesh’s Likely XI

Bangladesh will not look to experiment ahead of the final and the key for them will be to back the experienced campaigners, who have done it before.

Bangladesh’s Probable XI: Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan (c), Sabbir Rahman, Mehedi Hasan, Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman, Nazmul Islam

Pitch and Conditions

Thunderstorms and showers remain a part of the forecast as the case has been throughout the tournament. The encouraging sign is that not too much cricket was lost. The rain-curtailed match was of 19 overs.

Slower in nature, the pitch will remain good for batting, along with purchase available for bowlers as it has been throughout the tournament.

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Fan zone

Bangladesh’s behaviour witnessed extreme reactions from cricket fans who expressed their disgust on social media. Indian fans majorly sided with Sri Lanka and the social media should be an interesting space before and during the final.

For an average Bangladesh fan, Indian cricket, with its power and riches, is the source of all evils surrounding the game. 2015 World Cup isn’t forgotten as most believe India bully their way through in most tournaments.

Indian fans, on the other hand, expect respect for their country’s help in rise of Bangladesh’s cricket and also the country.

Expect memes and trolls hurled at the social space during the grudge match. If Bangladesh get on top, expect flaring tempers on the greens too. On the other hand, it’s a shame that Sri Lanka aren’t a part of the tournament finale, whose sole reason was celebrating the nation’s 70th independence.

Timing: 19:00 IST