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India v West Indies: First Test lookahead

by Shamya Dasgupta 5 minute read

It’s just two Tests, like during Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell in 2013, but it should make for a good contest. However, that is only if the West Indies come to the party.

A look at the table below confirms that India have been the dominant team in the recent past, winning seven Tests and losing none against the West Indies, at home and away. That’s as much a proof of India’s superior – and growing – status as a Test team as it is of the West Indies’ struggles in the format.

Their next exchange will start in Rajkot on October 4, with the second and final fixture slotted for Hyderabad from October 12. In Rajkot, the batsmen are expected to make merry. It’s the home of the Saurashtra team in the domestic circuit, and their games, over the years, have been characterised by high scores. It’s where Ravindra Jadeja, usually a No.7 or No.8 batsman in the Indian Test team, has scored three triple centuries, just to give everyone an idea of what might be in store.

Jadeja, the local boy, has had a lot of success in Rajkot over the years

Jadeja, the local boy, has had a lot of success in Rajkot over the years

And when India hosted England there in November 2016, 1457 runs were scored for the loss of 29 wickets. At some level, that’s too many wickets and too few runs for the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium.

Eye on India

It’s an Indian team with a bit of an eye on the near future. India did very well in patches on their tour of England, but failed to grab the key moments and lost 4-1 – most people will probably agree that the series was closer than that.

That, however, is neither here and nor there. India lost pretty comprehensively, and though they continue to be the No.1 Test team in the world, the gap with South Africa, Australia and England, in the next three spots, has diminished.

Shaw, the wonderkid, is set to make his Test debut in Rajkot

Shaw, the wonder-kid, is set to make his Test debut in Rajkot

The big problem for India in England was their toothless show with the bat, with the exception of Virat Kohli, their captain, who was by far the best batsman among the two sides. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara shone in patches, and so did KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant right at the end, but their effort didn’t nullify the fact that Kohli is the team’s best batsman by a country mile.

Back in India, in Rajkot at that, the rest of the batsmen should hope to get back among the runs. Among them – it will be fascinating if it happens – will be the brand-new opening batsman: Prithvi Shaw. He hasn’t played Test cricket before, and with Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan out of the picture, he should partner Rahul in the game.

There are a bunch of pacers, but the focus has to be on spin now that India are back in familiar environs: Ravichandran Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav are the frontmen there, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if all of them feature in the Indian XI.

Ambris warmed up for the first Test with a century in the tour game

Ambris warmed up for the first Test with a century in the tour game

Eye on the West Indies

While India are No.1, West Indies are down at No.8, 38 points behind. That just about sums about the gulf in performance between the two sides in recent times, but West Indies can be better than that, and that’s what they must be hoping for.

The two-day tour match against an Indian Board President’s XI wasn’t a bad outing for the visitors. Shannon Gabriel, their best paceman, looked good, and so did Devendra Bishoo, their premier spin option. Among the batsmen, Kraigg Brathwaite, Kieran Powell and Shai Hope, their likely top three, settled in nicely and scored runs, while Shane Dowrich and Sunil Ambris were impressive in the middle order – Ambris, whose Test career got off to a terrible start in New Zealand late last year, will hope to get a look-in and proved what he is capable of. He notched up a 98-ball 114* with the bat.

Gabriel is the West Indies' most potent fast-bowling option

Gabriel is the West Indies’ most potent fast-bowling option

In Shimron Hetmyer and Roston Chase, there are more good alternatives for Jason Holder’s team with the bat, but it’s possibly the lack of a big support act for Bishoo that could affect them in the series. Chase aside, there is only Jomel Warrican, the four-Test-old left-arm spinner.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that West Indies have won a few Tests – some truly impressive ones too – in the last few years. The 2-0 whitewash of Bangladesh in July 2018 aside, they drew a two-Test series at home against Sri Lanka this year, while there have been away Test match wins over Pakistan and, crucially, England.

They have the players and the skills. It’s a matter of bringing it all together and pushing the Indians hard. It hasn’t happened in a long time, though, and the Indians have the firepower to ensure it doesn’t this time either.

Rahul and Pant slammed centuries in the final Test in England

Rahul and Pant slammed centuries in the final Test in England

Watch out for …

Shannon Gabriel v Prithvi Shaw should be a fantastic contest if it happens. Well, Gabriel is likely to start with the new ball for the West Indies, but will India blood 18-year-old Shaw at the start of their order – especially after Rahul’s 37 and 149 in his last Test appearance, at The Oval – even though he is in their shortlist of 12?

It will be fantastic if it happens. Shaw has been an outstanding domestic performer for India, and has pretty much forced the selectors to give him a chance. Gabriel is, arguably, the best fast bowler to have emerged from the Caribbean in many years. Bring it on!

Banter (or not)

“Our goal will be to play good cricket, definitely to dominate. But improvement, however you look at it – as a batsman, as a bowler and also as a team, what are we going to gain – that will be our focus.” – Ajinkya Rahane

“We are going there to compete. We are going there to do our very best and keep fighting till the very end. You never know what can happen.” – Stuart Law

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