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India in the West Indies, 2016

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West_Indies_India_Test_series_cricketThe India vs West Indies matches had a different aura to cricket in the pre 1990s period. In the pre-helmet era, the Indian batsmen faced the fierce pace attack of the West Indies in their own backyard, which had pace and bounce in those days.

Gone are those glory days of the West Indies. We are left with the team which everyone is hoping against hope does well at home and around the world and makes us fall in love with their side once again. But neither the pitches nor the bowlers are the same for the home side. The pitches have gone from being pace friendly to being a square turner at times, and the pace bowlers are a bit like Eastern counterparts, having no pace.

Indian cricket is in the limelight recently due to the appointment of new head coach, Anil Kumble. With his offbeat modus operandi they would like to reach the pinnacle of the Test rankings. The chance to become number one is real, with as many as 16 Tests to be played on the home turf after this series. Now that the dynamic and bellicose Virat Kohli is captain, having already won two series and drawn one, one would hope that India will go for that number one spot.

India squad for West Indies Test series: Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav

India will not be complaining about the lack of pace in the Windies bowlers, given that their ineptitude against the fast bowling is no secret. However, India is in a bit of conundrum as a majority of their wickets have been taken by the spin bowlers, not only on the subcontinental spin-friendly pitches, but outside the Asia too, on the pitches which are less conducive to spin bowling.

In the series against England, Moeen Ali was the second highest wicket taker with 19 wickets. Against Australia, Nathan Lyon was the highest wicket taker with 23 wickets and Mitch Johnson coming a distant second with 13 wickets. This may be an indicator to the opposition side that India is not as good against spin as they used to be. With the pitches set to turn in the deeper end of the Test it will not be a walk in the park for this number 2 side.

The Indian number three, Cheteshwar Pujara, was not in the best of form in the series against South Africa (though his performance was on par with Kohli’s). There are other batsmen who want to claim this essential spot, so this series will be an important one for him. The main contender for that spot, Ajinkya Rahane, was a class apart in the home series against South Africa. When no other batsman scored runs he was the only one to score a century, and that too twice in one match. Understandably, he was the top scorer of the series. Equally adept in playing pace and spin, he has been an indispensible asset in any condition and is entrusted by the management with the duties of the Vice Captain.

In the opening slot Murali Vijay’s form outside Asia has been a shot in the arm for India. He was the highest scorer for India in England and second highest in Australia. He has scored runs against pace, swing and spin. However, there will be a shootout for his opening partner between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul. If the practice games are any yardstick, then KL Rahul should be in the XI for the first Test with two fifty plus scores against his name without being dismissed. The rest of the batting line up is settled with Virat Kohli at 4, Rahane at 5, Rohit Sharma at 6, Saha at 7, Jadeja at 8 and then the tail to follow.

The bowling line up has a few old faces with Mohammad Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar making a comeback into the side. With the pitches likely to assist the spinners, the pacers’ role is expected to be limited to the initial overs. The spinners are Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra. All of them are in good form going into the series. Ashwin has been in a league of his own, becoming the go-to bowler for his captain.  

West Indies squad for Test series against India: Jason Holder (c), Kraigg Brathwaite (vc), Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Rajendra Chandrika, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Leon Johnson, Marlon Samuels

The plight of the West Indies cricket is a sorry tale and it is worsened by the fact that the last time West Indies won a Test series against a top side at home was way back in 2012 against New Zealand. With the changing priorities, discord between WICB and the cricketers, players making hoopla about being dropped from the side, the West Indies Test cricket is in a sorry state.

With Jason Holder still their captain, the inclusion of Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels gives some credibility to this Test squad. Their batting had been poor in the last home series against Australia in 2015, where Jason Holder was their top batsman. Carlos Brathwaite did well in their more recent tour of Australia. The bowling department will be helped by the pace from Shannon Gabriel and guile from the leg spinner Devendra Bishoo.

The fixtures:

>> First Test at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua; July 21-25: The four Tests played here had one result and the rest have ended in a draw. The highest wicket takers at this ground have been pacers.

>> Second Test at Sabina Park, Kingston; July 30-August 3: A historic ground which has produced results on every occasion since 1998. Pacers expected to dominate.

>> Third Test at Darren Sammy Cricket stadium, St. Lucia; August 9-13: Of the four tests here, three have ended in draw. The spinners are expected to play a substantial role here.

>> Fourth Test at Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain; August 18-22: Again a historic ground where the pace has dominated over the years and this ground still has one of the quickest pitches in the Island nation.

India has won the last five series between these two teams. Given the strength of this Indian side, this looks like a one way road. But cricket has seen funnier things happen.

 

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