No free lunches in deceptively charming Chattogram

Puji

Aryan Surana

Harsha Bhogle often comes up with jolly good wisecracks on air. Once, as Virat Kohli occupied the crease, an infographic showing his numbers at home and away popped up on the screen. Mindful of the fact that the achievements of Indian batters in their own backyard are taken with a pinch of salt, Harsha quipped, ''Yes, the pitches are flat but nobody couriers runs at your doorstep. You still have to go out and score them.'' His remark was relevant to the opening day of the first Test between India and Bangladesh in Chattogram, where landmarks were up for grabs, but only for those willing to conjoin desire with adequate application.

The new ball coming so serenely onto the bat made KL Rahul act out of character to flash at wide tempters and Shubman Gill clench his jaw whenever he missed out on a scoring opportunity. Even though the Indian skipper mellowed down as Bangladesh took out the slips to put catchers in front of the wicket and attacked the stumps from the 7th over onwards, Gill was an eager beaver. He ill-executed the paddle sweep and a ricochet off the elbow saw a golden chance to register his maiden Test hundred go up in flames.

Ebadot Hossain bowled just 3% of deliveries in the driving zone in the first ten overs of the morning. Khaled Ahmed too had curiously refrained from bowling full. On the other side of Gill's soft dismissal, however, Bangladesh operated like a well-oiled machine. The pacers began commanding respect while Taijul Islam persistently drew the batters forward as India went 87 balls without a boundary, the kneecapping initiative bringing about the downfall of a largely equanimous Rahul, and Kohli.

The innings that started out with batters rubbing their hands with glee beseeched, at 48/3, a repair job. A surface traditionally known to be hospitable to willow-wielders was gripping a bit and keeping low at times. It was a stark reminder that cricket doesn't like preordained notions. Albeit, Rishabh Pant does. Irrespective of the match situation, he saunters to the middle with the sole intent of imposing his authority and teams more often than not buckle under the onslaught. Bangladesh were on the verge of surrender too when Pant departed for a carnivalesque 46, making the same mistake as Kohli: camping back to a ball that could've been better navigated off the frontfoot.

Even Shreyas Iyer misread the length on a couple of occasions initially, but the frequency of those errors in judgement reduced significantly as a partnership brewed with Cheteshwar Pujara, the ideal troubleshooter for such exigencies as he absorbs pressure and slows the game down thanks to his watertight technique against finger spin. Post Lunch, attritional cricket was played out at its mesmerizing best. Pujara covered the line and scrupulously tucked a single round the corner when Taijul drifted on the pads and opened the bat face dexterously to steer Mehidy Hasan Miraz to third man for a brace. Iyer gave the off-spinner a charge and hoisted the ball over mid-on, preferring a near-straight swing over an agricultural whack to rule out a top-edge. He pushed Pujara for a few dicey doubles, with the senior pro surviving a run-out at the non-striker's end as Ebadot didn't get behind the sticks to collect the throw from the deep. His poor game awareness was also highlighted by the reluctance to try and bounce out Iyer, who'd skimmed 66 runs off spin by the time he reached 76.

The 149-run stand was replete with strokes of luck, not least the zing bail clinging to the groove when a ball that didn't bounce enough defeated Iyer to kiss the off-stump. Bangladesh have been terrible catchers of late and Taijul rued another shambolic display in the field. ''We could have bowled India out if we had taken those chances. If they had lost five to six wickets with 10 to 15 overs in our hand then it was possible to bowl them out. If we had not made the mistakes we would have been in a better position.''

The sloppiness wasn't confined to fielding as Bangladesh offered too many drag-downs in the afternoon and evening session. The indiscipline was, in part, a repercussion of Pujara stepping out every now and then to upset the spinners' rhythm. It's his modus operandi to put the dancing shoes on, not necessarily to take the aggressive route. The only instances where he found the fence after leaving the crease came around the 75th over of the innings. Iyer used his feet for more conventional purposes, making room to gracefully go inside out versus Shakib and hacking Taijul over wide mid-on the next ball after being beaten all ends up. The pair saved the flamboyant rejoinders for the final hour of play where Bangladesh seemed as tired as the wings of a migrating bird.

Taijul's ripper with the second new ball denied Pujara his first Test century in almost four years, but his marathon effort in association with Iyer's 82* led India to 278/6 at Stumps after the gloomy wobble at the top. "Even if it's just 90, it's quite valuable for the team. It was a good ball, there was nothing I could have done. I am not too worried about not getting to the three-figure mark. I have been batting well and if I continue like this, hopefully it will come soon,'' Pujara reckoned.

"Sometimes, we try and pay too much attention to the three-figure mark but the most important thing when you play this sport is to try and put your team in a position from where we have a chance of winning the game. This pitch looks like there will be a result and we needed some runs on the board, so my partnership with Shreyas was very important. And also with Rishabh once we lost the first three wickets. If we add a few more runs it will be an interesting Test match.''