Dhawan’s comeback 150 lights up rainy day – India 239 for 0
He could have been carrying drinks had KL Rahul not fallen ill or if India had taken the expected option of opening with Cheteshwar Pujara once they decided to play five bowlers. He could have been out for 1 on a quicker pitch, he should have been snapped for 73, but Shikhar Dhawan was destined to score a third Test century, against an insipid attack missing both strategy and execution.
The ad campaign of “they are not kids anymore” will draw jokes about Bangladesh’s wicketless performance on the first day, but no Test century can be written off; and Dhawan’s came at a crucial juncture in his career, in a comeback Test, and its pace helped India make up time in a Test played on a slow pitch and during the monsoon. Only 56 overs were possible, but Dhawan’s unbeaten 150 off 158 meant India got a score that teams at times take on a full day’s play. The established opener, M Vijay, put his head down, determined to not throw away his wicket against innocuous bowling, complementing Dhawan with a more sedate 89 off 178.
India’s intent will take all the headlines: they picked five bowlers, including three quickest bowlers in their squad, and sat out the least aggressive of their batting contenders, Pujara. The story of the day, though, will be Bangladesh’s rather strange selection and bowling plans thereafter. Not only did they select Mohammad Shahid to play his third Test, they selected him as the only specialist quick ahead of the promising duo of Rubel Hossain and Taskin Ahmed on an overcast day and with cloud cover expected throughout the Test. It seemed they had put all their eggs in the toss basket packing their side with batting and spin, and losing out on helpful conditions with the new ball on the first morning. It all went wrong for them from the moment Kohli won the toss.
India’s luck didn’t end at the toss. There was no bounce in the pitch, which should have got them Vijay’s wicket in the second over and which also cost them Dhawan’s scalp in the third. Soumya Sarkar, already developing a cult following as the little Ganguly with his classy off-side shots and military medium bowling, thought he had Vijay trapped right in front with a short-of-a-length delivery, but seemingly umpire Kumar Dharmasena thought it would have sailed over the stumps. On a pitch with good bounce it would well have, but this was a slow and low track, evident in how Dhawan’s regulation edge off the only fast bowler fell short of slip in the next over. India could well have been 1 for 2 then, but Bangladesh gave up the ghost after that.
The consequence was a mammoth opening stand, which made this combination the fifth-most prolific among Indian openers, and the only one other than Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to have posted two double-century stands. There was a sense of ease with which they scored the runs: Dhawan was not even at his watchful best, but the leading edges fell safe, the inside edges avoided the stumps, and the gorgeous drives flowed. The standout quality of the innings was his charges against spin, not to blast the ball, but to push it along the ground and into the gaps, letting the quick outfield do the rest.
The first burst, though, didn’t need much of that exquisite footwork. After bowling two maidens Shahid lost all intensity and provided loose balls to Dhawan to help him get off to a flying start. However, it was the lack of discipline from the spinners that will disappoint Bangladesh. In his first over, the sixth of the innings, Shuvagata Hom provided Dhawan with a short ball and a half-volley, which were both sent away for fours. Shahid then conceded three boundaries to horizontal shots in one over, on such a slow track and with a cloud cover overhead. From 1 off 10 Dhawan had now raced to 34 off 28. Despite all the strides made by Bangladesh of late, the harsh and the unfortunate truth is Dhawan is likely to be tested more in domestic first-class cricket than during this spell of play.
The worrying part for Bangladesh will be that the ball turned. Just that their bowlers didn’t put enough of them in areas that test batsmen. They didn’t concede an extra, but freebies they kept providing. After the rain interruption, which arrived moments after Dhawan had been dropped by Hom at short straight midwicket, Shahid – primarily an inswing bowler – bowled with a 7-2 off-side field providing easy runs. Spinners kept bowling flat, and the best of the lot, Shakib Al Hasan, bowled only six in the first 45. If the legspinner Jubair Hossain managed to draw the odd false stroke with his wrong’uns – including a Dhawan edge when he was 98 – his economy rate of 5.85 was testament to the number of long hops and full tosses thrown in besides.
Given the conditions and the quality of the bowling, this partnership won’t answer India’s long-term problems with opening the innings outside of Asia, but they did what was required, at a healthy pace, to give India a chance to push for the win.