India will look to settle an old score against an increasingly confident Bangladesh when the co-hosts meet in an intriguing opening match of the World Cup on Saturday.
On paper, the day-night clash at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka may look like a no-contest with tournament favourites India having won 20 of their 22 one-day matches against the Tigers.
But the two defeats at Bangladesh’s hands will rankle Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men when they take the field in front of some 25,000 partisan fans baying for India’s blood.
A 15-run defeat in Dcember 2004 in Dhaka was followed by a stunning five-wicket loss during the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, which knocked India out in the first round.
Indian vice-captain Virender Sehwag, never one to mince words, told reporters ahead of the tournament that his team was charged up for what is widely seen as a grudge match.
“We have not forgotten that World Cup loss,” the aggressive opener said. “We can’t wait to play them again, and I am confident we will do better this time.”
Bangladesh, who also defeated mighty South Africa in the second round of the last World Cup, could not have asked for a better setting to challenge the Indians.
Familiar home conditions that assist the slow left-arm spin of skipper Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak have seen Bangladesh win seven and lose just one of their last 10 home one-dayers.
The victories included an astonishing 4-0 rout of Daniel Vettori’s New Zealand in October.
Athar Ali Khan, who played the last of his 19 one-dayers for Bangladesh in 1998 before becoming a TV expert, said the current team had the potential to deliver.
“We played for survival, these lads play to win,” Khan said. “I have a lot of faith in this team.”
Bangladesh will, however, miss former captain and pace spearhead Mashrafe Mortaza, who was ruled out of the tournament due to a recurring knee injury.
Mortaza, 27, has been the pivot of the Bangladesh attack with 146 one-day wickets, including a match-winning 4-38 against India in the last World Cup.
Bangladesh will depend on the left-handed openers, Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes, the fluent Junaid Siddique and former captain Mohammad Ashraful to give the spinners a reasonable total to defend.
India have enjoyed an impressive run over the last three years, which has taken Dhoni’s men to the top of the Test rankings and made them number two behind Australia in the one-dayers.
They go into the Cup opener on the back of two convincing morale-boosting wins over Australia and New Zealand in practice matches this week.
The Indians rely mainly on its powerful batting, led by world recorld holder Sachin Tendulkar, to pile up a big total and bat the other side out of a match.
With Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh adding to a top-heavy line-up and Dhoni and the explosive Yusuf Pathan coming down the order, Harbhajan Singh has been pushed to number eight despite two Test centuries to his credit.
Off-spinner Harbhajan leads the bowling attack with new-ball spearhead Zaheer Khan, but India will rely on part-timers Sehwag, Yuvraj and Pathan to fill the fifth bowler’s spot.
The pressure on Saturday will be entirely on India, but Dhoni chose to calm team-mates by stressing the importance of doing the basics right.
“We should not worry about winning and losing, just concentrate on doing the small things correctly,” he said. “Then everything will fall in place.
India and Bangladesh have been drawn with England, the West Indies, South Africa, Ireland and the Netherlands in group B, with the top four advancing to the quarter-finals.