India’s playing XI from the first couple of Tests against the West Indies, might well need changes to be made to it for the Gros Islet Test starting on Tuesday.
What do we make of West Indies and India’s performances at the Sabina Park? For starters, the West Indies batting line-up, led by Roston Chase, finally showed resilience and more than anything else, proved to themselves that they are capable of such performances. To draw the Jamaica Test, the Windies needed to bat 98 overs at the start of the fifth day’s play and had just six wickets in hand. Therefore, considering how difficult batting to save a Test on the final day can be, West Indies’ audacious approach, which can also be described as astute, was a definite eye-catcher. In the end, achieving what they had set out to would have given them immense satisfaction and belief, more importantly. Also, by achieving what seemed impossible on the final morning of the second Test – given the way the West Indies batting line-up had fared until day four in Jamaica – they have sent out a strong message to the visitors.
“India’s bowling performance on the final day of the Jamaica Test did prompt us to think whether India’s bowling was as good as it looked in the first three outings of the series.”
Jermaine Blackwood and Chase played aggressively against Mohammed Shami and Amit Mishra – who began proceedings for India on the final day in Jamaica – and for the first time in this series, India did not have answers to the West Indies batsmen’s onslaught. The Indian bowlers could not stymie Blackwood and Chase, with this partnership doing significant damage to the lead (256) India had over the West Indies at the start of day five, but the greater disappointment for India and Virat Kohli would probably have been their inability to bowl enough wicket-taking deliveries. Blackwood, Chase, Shane Dowrich, and Jason Holder transcended themselves with the bat and none of us should deprive them the credit, but India’s bowling performance on the final day of the Jamaica Test did prompt us to think if India’s bowling was as good as it had looked in the first three outings of the series.
On the batting front, India took 171.1 overs to score 500/9 dec., and their run-rate of 2.92 runs/over was drastically slower than the rate at which they accrued 566/8 dec. in Antigua (3.49 runs/over). West Indies bowlers, we must admit, did play a part in India’s slow run-rate in Jamaica. Shannon Gabriel has been the standout bowler for the West Indies since the start of the Test series against India, but Holder’s bowling performance on day three of the Jamaica Test – especially the spell in which he had Ajinkya Rahane in all kinds of trouble – was also among the major positives for the West Indies from the drawn second Test.
The inference we can draw, therefore, from the Sabina Park Test is, India did regress slightly as a unit while West Indies raised their game quite significantly. Some might argue that the hosts only managed to draw the Jamaica Test and hence we should not be getting ahead of ourselves. But, rationally, West Indies ‘earned’ their draw in Jamaica, where only India could have won after the visitors had bowled the hosts out for 196 on the first day and put up 500 runs on the board by the end of day three. As a result of their performance in Jamaica, we can say that the West Indies will be a relatively confident bunch ahead of the Gros Islet Test. India, on the flip side of the coin, might have had a few doubts creep into their system in the aftermath of the draw in Jamaica and may well be desperate for the third Test to begin – can you comprehend the potential for a change in the thought process of the two teams after West Indies’ recovery in Jamaica?
Now, do Anil Kumble and Kohli have to make a few changes to India’s playing XI from the Jamaica Test? And, if so, who should, ideally, make way and which players can be brought in to reinvigorate India’s playing XI?
India’s Playing XI for the Gros Islet Test
The Indian team management might well have a major selection decision to make if Murali Vijay recovers from the thumb injury he suffered in Antigua and becomes available for selection. The Indian Cricket Team was put through a yoga session in St Lucia a couple of days earlier and Vijay was a part of that session, as he was spotted doing the same yoga asana as his teammates. So, if his involvement in the team’s yoga session is a stark indication that he has recovered from the thumb injury, then the Tamil Nadu opener will automatically regain his place in India’s playing XI, with the question being “in place of who?”.
The man who replaced him in the Indian playing XI for the Jamaica Test – Lokesh Rahul – did himself and his team plenty of good, by scoring a daddy hundred (158). Dropping Rahul for the incoming Vijay will be harsh on the Karnataka batsman, whose confidence will take a significant hit if he does not play the Gros Islet Test. And, Vijay can simply not be benched, given his form and consistent performances at the top of the Indian Test batting line-up for a good couple of years now.
Therefore, Cheteshwar Pujara might well be the one to make way for the fit-again Vijay, in India’s playing XI for the third Test against the West Indies. Pujara, like every other Indian batsman, has had only a couple of hits, as India have batted only twice in the two Tests so far. His scores of 16 and 46 do not help his cause, but an even bigger issue for the Saurashtra batsman and one that the Indian team management will also be concerned with, is his strike-rates in both the innings. Pujara’s 16 in Antigua came off 67 balls at a strike-rate of 23.8 and, in Jamaica, he took 159 balls to score 46 (strike-rate of 29).
At a time when Kohli’s India are looking to play an aggressive brand of Test cricket in a bid to give themselves every chance of winning Tests consistently, Pujara’s style could well be seen as an aberration in the extreme. Now, if Pujara plays these types of knocks against lethal bowling attacks of Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Pakistan, then the strike-rates he has achieved in this series will be comprehensible. But the West Indian bowling attack is miles off the caliber of attacks possessed by the aforementioned quartet. In addition, if Pujara does make way for Vijay, the team management’s decision will be perfectly substantiated: in the eight innings Pujara has had since the start of the home series against South Africa in November-December 2015, he has managed just one half-century, with the list of scores reading 31, 77, 21, 31, 14, 28, 16, and 46. He has scored these runs (264) at an average of 33, which could also come into the team management’s thinking when they sit down to pick the playing XI for the Gros Islet Test.
Rahul, who is expected to retain his place in India’s playing XI from the Jamaica Test, will probably slot in at Pujara’s position, leaving Vijay to open with Shikhar Dhawan. And, apart from Pujara making way for Vijay, India’s batting line-up for the Gros Islet Test should not really have changes made to it.
As aforementioned, India’s bowling attack lacked incision and the composure required when the West Indies batsmen were intent on playing their shots, was also missing from the Indian bowlers on day five of the Jamaica Test. We can safely say that every Indian bowler’s performance level dropped on that particular day. We also have to acknowledge the fact that the Sabina Park pitch provided very little assistance to the Indian bowlers on the fifth day and although the nature of the day five pitch cannot be blamed entirely for India picking up just two wickets and conceding 340 runs in 88.1 overs, it did play a part in the performance of the Indian bowlers.
The Indian bowling attack had fared exceptionally well before the fifth day’s play in Jamaica and therefore, the Ishant Sharma-Mohammed Shami-Umesh Yadav-Ravichandran Ashwin-Amit Mishra quintet who have played in the first two Tests, should, ideally, be stuck with. If the Indian team management, however, feels that the bowling attack needs a bit of refreshing, then Ravindra Jadeja could be brought in place of Mishra. And, although this will not be a forced change like the one India are expected to make to their batting line-up if Vijay is fit, R Jadeja for Mishra might not be a bad change in personnel, after all. Having said that, I think India will stick with the Haryana leg-spinner for at least one more Test match.
Ideal Indian playing XI for Gros Islet Test: V Kohli (C), M Vijay, S Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin, A Mishra, M Shami, U Yadav, and I Sharma.
From the series’ perspective, we can all agree that West Indies’ gritty and gutsy batting performance on day five in Jamaica was just what the doctor ordered. India will now have to raise their game and although the West Indies will also be under pressure to prove that their batting performance in Jamaica wasn’t a one-off, we could well have 10 days of intriguing Test cricket coming up. As far as India’s playing XI is concerned, Pujara will probably have to make way for the incoming Vijay, while Mishra’s place in the Indian side for the Gros Islet Test might be debated too.
If you were a part of the Indian team management, will you be making changes to India’s XI for the Gros Islet Test and if so, who will make your playing XI? Tell us in the comments below.