India face tricky Bangla test

Cricket Champions Trophy : Defending champions look to assert their superiority against Mortaza's men

India face tricky Bangla test

 The Champions Trophy is looking more like an Asia Cup for India. For the third time in four outings, the Men in Blue will take on a neighbour but with the stakes a lot higher and opponents who have been felling some giants of the game through sheer fearlessness.

Not many would have predicted that defending champions India will be locking horns with Bangladesh in the semifinals at an event for the best eight teams in the world. Reigning world champions Australia, 2000 ICC Knockout Trophy winner New Zealand and World No 1 South Africa all exited from the group stage itself, but, riding on some luck and then an outstanding exhibition of counter-attack, Bangladesh have arrived at Edgbaston for one of the biggest games of their lives.

Until a few years ago, India’s battle with arch-rivals Pakistan carried a lot of hype and tension. But the rarity of cricket between the two squabbling countries, the slipping fortunes of Pakistan and the stunning rise of Bangladesh over the last few years has seen India-Bangladesh encounters generate more interest.

Bangladesh fans, who couldn’t digest their semifinal defeat against India in the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup despite being outplayed for large parts, reacted strongly with many crying of foul play. Such was the extent of the sour grapes, the then ICC president, Bangladesh’s Mustafa Kamal, uttered some unsavoury words in the immediacy that didn't go down well with the authorities.

Since then Bangladeshi fans have continuously resorted to extreme ways to cheer their ‘Tigers’ whenever they’ve clashed with India. Bangladesh did exact a modicum of revenge when they beat India at home in a three-match ODI series but when it comes to big fights, seemingly affected by the pressure heaped on them, they’ve come a cropper against India. Proof: the 2016 Asia Cup final and the 2016 World T20 where India emerged victors.

The sheer class running through the length of the squad and the ability to handle emotions and pressure with a sedate mind makes India the overwhelming favourites for this second semifinal tie. Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have continued their Champions Trophy love affair with two century stands so far, skipper Virat Kohli is relishing his role of leading from the front with two half-centuries, veteran Yuvraj Singh, set to play a milestone 300th game, is oozing class and confidence while ace finisher M S Dhoni has been amongst the runs as well.

The bowlers, barring the outing against Sri Lanka where they couldn't defend 321, have been on the mark as well. Despite not getting much swing and tracks aiding batting, pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have operated smartly by bowling tight lines to keep the opposition in check. Ravindra Jadeja too had an off day against Sri Lanka but bounced back strongly versus South Africa. Ace off-spinner R Ashwin, brought in place of Umesh Yadav in the previous game, showed how much the team missed him with a fine performance.
Pandya lends balance

All-rounder Hardik Pandya lends the balance the team had been searching for for a long time. While his bowling can be predictable, he’s got the uncanny knack of picking wickets. Add his explosive batting and India have got a strong line-up.
Bangladesh though have nothing to lose and everything to gain from their first ever semifinal appearance at an ICC event. They know that this is a great chance to make another powerful statement and have a talented squad that's capable of doing it.  The problem though is the magnitude of the occasion and whether they’ve got the nerves to handle it. Winning bilateral series at home against India, South Africa and Pakistan is one thing, but to play a seminal against high-quality side in front of what could be partisan crowd is another.
If they can rise against those odds then an upset could be on the cards but India will be wary of that and keen to punch their ticket to London for Sunday's final.

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