It has been many months that India’s test team strode out on the field. In its last assignment – against South Africa at home – India won the series quite remarkably with a margin of 3-0 on spinning tracks and established itself as the number one test team in the world. Now it is embarking on a tour to West Indies. Anyone who follows international cricket would know West Indies have ceased to be the force that they were once in tests. India’s last overseas tour was to Sri Lanka and the team managed to win the closely-fought series 2-1. The question is would India be able to repeat the feat against West Indies? Only time will tell, but for now there’s no harm in doing a little analysis and finding out India’s chances in the series.
A look at the Indian warriors
The 17-man Indian test team has oodles of quality and experience in the format, something which makes them clear favourites on paper at least. The batting is led by Virat Kohli, who will probably slot in at number four. The first three places are likely to be taken up by Murali Vijay, who was recently thought to be good enough for Australia by Matthew Hayden, Shikhar Dhawan, the left-handed incarnation of Virender Sehwag, and Ajinkya Rahane, who is regarded by many as the worthy successor to the place vacated by ‘The Wall’, Rahul Dravid. Rohit Sharma, the silky artist a la VVS Laxman, will play at number 5 in all probability. The strength of the batting line up can be imagined from the fact that players as good as KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara might not get an automatic look-in in the first eleven.
Wriddhiman Saha is right now the best keeper in India, and on the dead pitches his capability behind the stumps will come in extremely handy. If any of the pitches offer some seam and swing, Stuart Binny can play a crucial role with his medium pace and gritty batting down the order. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will play important roles with the bat apart from their principal identity as wicket-taking bowlers. Amit Mishra is the best legspinner in India and on the pitches of Caribbean offering some turn, he too will be a lethal prospect.
India is well stocked in the fast bowling department. The attack will probably be led by Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami. Both are capable of generating good pace. In case of Ishant, his bounce is a major weapon and for Shami it is the swing and swerve he generates with a skiddy action that causes many uncomfortable moments for the batters. The pace reserves are strong with the likes of Umesh Yadav, who is fast and can be lethal on a good day, and Shardul Thakur, who gets his chance after performing well on the domestic circuit for some seasons. Varun Aaron too could have been picked on the tour as he would have given the team management an extra option with his pace and late swing. Hardik Pandya is also a surprising omission as well given the fact that he is a quick bowler and a capable batter and could have added an ‘X Factor’ to Team India. However, he is a test quality all-rounder and one expects that he would receive his chance sooner rather than later.
Present condition of West Indies test team
West Indies’ best players such as Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine and Jerome Taylor are not there in the test team. The likes of Bravo, Sammy, and Taylor have retired from test cricket while Russell and Simmons have stated openly that their bodies can’t cope with the rigours of test cricket. Pollard, Gayle and Narine are not selected for the test team because they don’t take part in the domestic, first-class cricket tournament. Apart from the absence of these luminaries whose presence would have definitely made a lot of difference to the West Indian team, there is also some uncertainty in the region with CARICOM looking to dissolve West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and WICB firm in its stand that nothing is wrong with it. An uncertain environment such as this can often take its toll on players.
A new generation
The 12-man team selected by Caribbean selectors is perhaps the best in the last few years in terms of talent. In the batting department there is experience in the form of Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo who will play a major role in the middle order. Kraigg Brathwaite, the recalled Leon Johnson, and Jermaine Blackwood will also play important roles as well. It is expected that the talented Roston Chase – an uncapped batsman cum off spinner from Barbados – will get a test debut ahead of Rajendra Chandrika. Chandrika may have scored an unbeaten half century against India in the recent first-class tour match, but so far he has appeared to be out of depth in the international arena. The talented Shane Dowrich will play as a keeper. He has already proved himself with the bat against a team like Australia. It just needs to be seen how he reacts to the added responsibility.
As far as bowling is concerned, the omission of Sulieman Benn is a little surprising considering how beautifully he has been bowling in the last few months. His replacement, Devendra Bishoo is a capable leg spinner in his own right. Shannon Gabriel is right now the fastest bowler in the Caribbean Islands but needs to be a little more accurate to cause greater trouble to the accomplished batsmen from India. Skipper Jason Holder and Carlos Brathwaite are similar players – they will be expected to keep it tight and also score runs with the bat down the order in case the need arises.
The tight selection policy of West Indies needs to be praised for the simple reason that it gives players plenty of clarity regarding where they stand. Players can prepare – as they should – for a test match and ones that miss out can stake a claim by performing at the next best level available to them. Phil Simmons has already helped the team clinch the World T20. Caribbean fans will surely hope that he can repeat the magic with the test team as well.
India will play its four tests at Antigua, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Trinidad. The pitch at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua is a batsman’s paradise. The second and third tests at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, and Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, Gros Islet, St. Lucia will be played on comparatively quicker tracks. The final test will be played at Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad where the pitch helps spin.
So, at least on paper Team India has got all the bases covered and looks primed to repeat what it did in Sri Lanka. It remains to be seen what kind of pitches West Indies serve up – will they have the courage to produce spicy pitches or will they settle for dead tracks that at least help them salvage draws at least?