India played to potential and the same can also be said about the West Indies, and the result in Antigua, consequently, was not a travesty. India played as a unit, yes, but they also had immaculate individual performances which helped them win the Antigua Test by an innings and 92 runs. Their hosts, on the other hand, failed to play as a unit and individually too, the West Indian players were unable to even compete with their Indian counterparts. Out of the 11-and-a-half sessions in the Antigua Test, how many do you think were won by the West Indies? None.
The hosts began proceedings well on the first morning in Antigua, after Virat Kohli had won the toss and chosen to bat. Shannon Gabriel was incisive and showed how lethal a weapon raw pace can be; he did not get the ball to swing or seam, but Gabriel bowled the right channels, mixed his lengths well, and his efforts warranted more than a wicket on the first day. Murali Vijay was the only Indian batsman to be dismissed in the first session in Antigua, but as aforementioned, West Indies’ opening bowlers, in particular, bowled really well and on another day, could have had more than a wicket. Barring Vijay’s dismissal, which Gabriel brought about with hostile short-pitch bowling, the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane sabotaged themselves and I do not think Devendra Bishoo’s deliveries carried ammunition.
The West Indies batsmen, you can say, have to take the majority of the blame for the defeat in the Antigua Test. The reason is, the Antigua pitch had no demons in it, whatsoever, and although the Indian bowling attack was incisive, consistent in their lines and lengths of attack and carried a wicket-taking threat at all times, the Windies batsmen’s failure to even put up a resistance – as evidenced by the Indian bowlers reducing them to 144/7 in the first innings and 132/8 in the second innings – does not show them in a good light at all.
Shifting focus to the Jamaica Test, can the West Indies recover from the heavy defeat in Antigua and at least push India more? If so, what should Jason Holder and co. do to challenge India at the Sabina Park? Read on!
On a fundamental level, West Indies must bolster their bowling attack – which would mean that they have to sacrifice one of the two bowling all-rounders (Holder and Carlos Brathwaite) in their playing XI for the Jamaica Test. Holder did what he could with bat and ball at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and, as the captain of his team, he cannot be dropped for the second West Indies v India 2016 Test in Jamaica. C Brathwaite, in my opinion, will have to be sacrificed, if West Indies want to challenge India, firstly, or even if they want to go ahead and upstage the imperious Indians.
There are a couple of reasons why West Indies have to reinforce their bowling: firstly, Gabriel was the sole out-and-out fast bowler in their attack for the Antigua Test and secondly, if West Indies want to challenge India, then the visitors cannot be allowed to post totals of the magnitude of 566/8 dec. Therefore, if I was a part of the West Indies team management, I would replace C Brathwaite – who showed what he can do with the bat, in the second innings of the Antigua Test by scoring a half-century (51) – with Miguel Cummins. Cummins was roped into the West Indies squad for the first Test after Jerome Taylor announced his Test retirement. Dropping C Brathwaite might well dent West Indies’ chances of posting competitive totals on the board, regardless of whether they bat first or second, but at any cost, the bowling will have to be reinforced if they want to challenge India.
Now, the Antigua pitch played truly, and India and Kohli’s decision to bat first proved to be a good one in retrospect. But, looking at it from another angle, would the West Indies batsmen have been able to bat as well as Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin and Dhawan did, even if they had the opportunity to bat first? Because, the Antigua pitch’s nature did not change much over the course of the Test match and yet, the hosts’ batting failed to muster even 250 runs in both the innings.
The reason that question has been posed is, can the hosts gamble on leaving some grass on the Sabina Park surface? If the hosts are keen on challenging India, then this is another aspect which the West Indies have to seriously consider, like that of bolstering their bowling attack. Batting remains India’s forte and so, the West Indies have to find a way to neutralise Kohli and company from racking up big totals on the board. One way to do so would be leaving grass on the surface – which would also test the West Indies’ batting line-up significantly and might boomerang if the toss goes in favour of India again. But are the West Indies prepared to be bold and proactive? Well… we’ll get the answer in five days’ time, but if the playing surface for the Jamaica Test is akin to what was dished out in Antigua, then a West Indies backlash is highly unlikely.
Before the four-Test series between West Indies and India began, one of the challenges for the West Indies was being a solid batting unit which had to make the Indian bowlers work hard for their wickets. Sadly for the hosts, their batsmen failed to strike the right balance between scoring runs and occupying the crease in Antigua. The likes of Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Kraigg Brathwaite took turns to be caught behind the wicket and we could describe their dismissals as ‘cheap’, given that the wicket and prevalent conditions offered little to no seam movement. The West Indies’ batsmen will have to raise their game and their performances will have a bearing on how they fare in the Jamaica Test and thereafter as well.
West Indies simply have to play better than they did in Antigua, if they want to push India and give themselves a chance of winning at least a Test in the four-Test series. But the aforementioned facets are highly significant and have to be closely looked into by the West Indies team management. In Antigua, West Indies looked like they did not have a gameplan against India when they bowled or batted, and looking ahead to the Jamaica Test, they can ill afford to commit such a fundamental error again.