Match Venue, Dates and Time
Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua | July 21-25, 2016 | 19:30 Hours IST, 10:00 AM local
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The aura surrounding the West Indies v India first Test and that of the series, is strange: on one hand, you have West Indies, the hosts who are significantly short on experience and also have an uncertainty about themselves, and India, on the other hand, have a confident, settled look about them ahead of an ‘overseas Test series’. With this series lacking in sub-plots, both West Indies and India will have to do something unexpected, to inject life into this month-long four-Test series.
India, by the time the first Test begins, will have been in the Caribbean for a fortnight, acclimatising themselves to the pervasive conditions through their two warm-up games against WICB President’s XI. Almost every one of their batsmen has had at least one good hit with the bat, and the Indian bowlers have also had their chances to find the right lengths and pace to bowl on the slow West Indian tracks. Almost 70% of India’s playing XI for the first Test pick themselves and the fate of the remaining 30% depends on the playing combination the team management decides to go with, in Antigua.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) had allowed the West Indian players to play the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) matches until July 11th, 10 days before the start of the Test series against India. Unlike India, West Indies have played a Test match already in 2016, although their playing XI for the Antigua Test is likely to be a lot different from the one which played the New Year’s Test in Sydney. That is exactly the reason why I feel they are not in an ideal shape to face an Indian side with more experience than them and has players who have consistently been a part of the Test side for more than a year now.
However, India have the overwhelming predisposition to start off slowly when they play Tests outside the sub-continent. So, from West Indies’ perspective, they ought to believe in themselves and make a positive start, doing which will not only instil confidence in their own selves but also send a strong message to India. The visitors are highly unlikely to be complacent, with Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble – two intense characters – keeping their troops focussed and asking them to raise the bar all the time.
Keys to West Indies’ and India’s successes
Arguably the greatest aspect of any sport is the equal chance of victory and defeat for every team, no matter how strong or weak they are. And, in West Indies and India’s cases, that philosophy is no different.
From the hosts’ perspective, they simply need to do the basics right. In fact, doing the basics right has to be their primary goal throughout. Their batting line-up has to ensure that implosion does not occur and the Indian bowlers are made to work hard for their wickets. Secondly, notwithstanding Jerome Taylor’s absence, which is an insurmountable blow to the West Indies, the West Indian bowling attack has to bowl the right lines and lengths and make the lives of Indian batsmen difficult. Their bowling attack is probably not as lethal as they would have liked it to be, but if Jason Holder and co. do their basics right and work as a unit, this Indian batting line-up can be gotten at.
India certainly have the better personnel, but the key to their success will be getting the balance of their playing XI right. They are likely to find the conditions in Antigua, Jamaica, Gros Islet, and Trinidad and Tobago to be relatively akin to what they get back home, so striking the right playing combination should not really be an issue. However, what they cannot afford to do is inadvertently weaken one department in trying to strengthen the other.
Key player battles
Darren Bravo v Ravichandran Ashwin – this player battle promises to be a special one featuring arguably the best batsman in the hosts’ ranks, against arguably the best bowler in the visitors’ ranks. Darren Bravo has done well with the bat against the Indians, accruing 709 runs in eight Tests, including a couple of mammoth centuries. He is a very good player of spin and has a wide range of shots too, to genuinely challenge an off-spinner who is probably the best in world cricket currently. Ashwin bagged 62 wickets in nine Tests in 2015, a year which ended with him as the ICC’s No. 1 Test bowler, and more often than not, was unplayable. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner has a massive repertoire for a spinner and will enjoy the challenge of bowling to Darren Bravo, who loves to use his feet and hit down the ground. We can definitely say that the player who wins this battle, will help his team wrest control of the West Indies v India first Test.
Holder v Kohli – Holder’s role has become bigger and more significant due to Taylor’s absence from the West Indian Test side to face India. The West Indian skipper now has to assume a bigger responsibility with the ball, and one of his tasks would be to dismiss Kohli cheaply. The reason I emphasise on Holder bowling to Kohli, and potentially dismissing the Indian Test skipper, is because the 6’6″ seamer has a very good outswinger which he can use to exploit a major weakness – that of the 27-year-old nicking an outswinger to the fielders behind the wicket – in Kohli’s batting. Though the Indian batting line-up has many quality batsmen, Kohli’s wicket is probably the most significant. And, Holder is West Indies’ best bet to remove Kohli cheaply.
Marlon Samuels v Ravindra Jadeja – now, this player battle might not carry as much significance as the aforementioned two, but could still have a bearing on the Test match. Samuels is one of the few experienced batsmen in the hosts’ batting line-up and, along with Darren Bravo, the onus will be on him to hold the West Indies innings together and help them put up respectable totals on the board. Being a top-order batsman who will probably bat at No. 4, Samuels is likely to come up against R Jadeja. Owing to Ashwin’s success and the off-spinner also being the leading spinner in the side, R Jadeja does tend to go under the radar a bit. However, he is a lethal left-arm spinner who his captain can bank on to bowl economically and carry a wicket-taking threat at all times. Samuels is not as good a batsman against spin – substantiated by his record of 43 dismissals against spinners, and just 62 to quick bowlers, during his 15-year Test career – as he is against quick bowlers. And, as a right-hander, even if R Jadeja can get the ball to turn slightly, Samuels will have a huge challenge on his hands. And, with R Jadeja, accuracy is his forte, meaning Samuels can ill afford to relax even for a ball.
About the venue and pitch for the West Indies v India first Test
The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, which was built just ahead of the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, has hosted four Test matches till date, producing one result and three draws. The second and fourth innings scores (352 and 266/5, N/A, 522 and 102/1, and 295 and 350/7) suggest that batting becomes easier and taking wickets becomes harder as the game progresses. If the Antigua pitch plays according to its nature of being slow and low, and record of having produced a result in just 25% of the matches it has hosted, then we might be in for a dull affair. The outfield at this venue has always been a cause for concern and led to the abandonment of a Test match between the West Indies and England in 2009, after just 10 balls were bowled.
West Indies and India’s squads and playing XIs
Holder (C), Kraigg Brathwaite, Rajendra Chandrika, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Jermaine Blackwood, Leon Johnson, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Carlos Brathwaite, Shannon Gabriel, Miguel Cummins, and Devendra Bishoo.
West Indies’ playing XI (probable): Holder (C), K Brathwaite, Chandrika, Darren Bravo, Samuels, Blackwood, Dowrich, C Brathwaite, Bishoo, Gabriel, and Cummins.
India’s Test squad: Kohli (C), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, R Jadeja, Stuart Binny, Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Amit Mishra.
India’s playing XI for the first Test (ideal): Kohli (C), Vijay, Rahul, Pujara, Rahane, Rohit, Saha, R Jadeja, Ashwin, Ishant, and Shami.
West Indies v India, at least at the outset, does not promise to be an engrossing contest. The hosts are lacking in big names and are almost a new-look side to the one which played in Australia earlier this year. The aspect to look forward to from West Indies’ perspective, is how they cope with Taylor’s absence due to retirement. For India, they are back to playing proper Test cricket after a relatively long gap of seven months and might need time to get used to negotiating the red ball and the grind which comes with playing Tests. But, with better players at their disposal, India, if they play to even 3/4th of their potential, should be able to win the West Indies v India first Test and lay a good foundation to go on and clinch their second consecutive Test series victory in the Caribbean.