Won, drawn, won, drawn: the story of India’s triumphant tour of West Indies, where Virat Kohli’s men did what was expected of them and importantly made an emphatic beginning to the Anil Kumble era. India’s 2-0 series victory over the West Indies was not a true reflection of the visitors’ hegemony for a majority of the four-Test series, the last of which was affected by rain and mostly due to a wet outfield. The drawn Trinidad Test—which now holds the record for the third shortest uncancelled Test in history, with only 22 overs of play having been possible over five days—has meant that India have now dropped to second in the ICC Test rankings and been replaced by Pakistan, who drew 2-2 with England in the four-Test series which was played simultaneously as West Indies v India 2016 and the three-Test series between Srilanka and Australia.
At the halfway mark in the four-Test series between West Indies and India, the hosts showed signs of giving India a run for their money and possibly, even causing a few problems for their dominant visitors. Led by Roston Chase scoring his maiden Test ton (137*), West Indies put up a brave fight on the final day of the Jamaica Test, which India seemed certain of winning and were disappointed with having to settle for only a draw. Kohli cut a highly frustrated figure on day five at the Sabina Park, as Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich, and Jason Holder produced rock-solid batting displays that completely nullified what had looked an incisive Indian bowling attack until the fourth evening of the Jamaica Test.
West Indies began the third Test well, too, at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, where, on a slightly green pitch on the first day, they had the Indians in a spot of bother at 126-5 before Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s No. 6 in the series and who won the man of the series award for scoring 235 runs and taking 17 wickets, and Wriddhiman Saha exuded great solidity and application to get India out of jail and take their side to 353 in the first innings. Had the West Indies harnessed that position of strength, the story of their home series against India might have been different. Despite a missed opportunity to put India under pressure, West Indies should not have lost the third Test and the series too, with it. They were 107-1 at the start of day four, with the entirety of the third day’s play having been washed out, and so, to basically lose the Test in a couple of days, was an unforgivable crime on West Indies’ part.
Looking back on what was a low-key battle between these two teams, what did we learn from India’s 2-0 series victory in the West Indies?
India’s 2-0 Series Victory v West Indies: Lessons Learnt
India will be relatively satisfied with what they were able to achieve during the 47-day long tour of the West Indies. I say they will be ‘relatively satisfied’, only, due to the following reasons or, in other words, takeaways.
One-down Batting Concerns
Arguably the biggest concern for India, despite their 2-0 series win, will be, or at least has to be, the lack of a settled No. 3. Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s No. 3 at the start of the series, struggled for runs and exuded a lack of confidence too and notwithstanding the team management’s constant support for Rohit Sharma and admiration for his inherent abilities, the Mumbai batsman is still unreliable at the Test level and I do not think he has the technique or the fortitude to be a successful No. 3 in Tests.
The Pujara of today is a shadow of the player he was during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, in which the Saurashtra batsman garnered a whopping 1483 runs—a tally that included six centuries and three half-centuries—in 14 Tests. Owing to Pujara’s struggles, the Indian batting line-up badly needs a proper No. 3 who can give stability to the entire batting line-up. I say “proper No. 3” because Rohit is currently not and probably can never be a No. 3 for India at the Test level. And, if India want to be the No. 1 Test side and enjoy overseas success too, they must prioritise having a solid No. 3 in their ranks. Playing an aggressive and entertaining brand of Test cricket is also a vision for Kohli’s India, but firstly, a Test No. 3 needs to be technically sound and Rohit is not a technically sound batsman.
With Rohit coming into the Indian playing XI for the St Lucia Test, the visitors did not have a designated No. 3 and Kohli, in order to shepherd the incoming Rohit, promoted himself to No. 3, Ajinkya Rahane batted a place higher as well, and the Mumbai Indians (MI) skipper was given the luxury of batting at his natural position (No. 5). What these changes—in personnel and to the batting order, subsequently—did was affect the stability of the Indian batting line-up.
Tactical Astuteness Missing
In terms of class and ability, India were the superior side, but as a unit, West Indies could definitely have played better. Leading batsman Darren Bravo endured a bad series, in which he made just 139 runs in seven innings, and his poor form meant that the hosts did not have someone holding their innings together. Only once in the whole Test series versus India, West Indies scored more than 300—388/6, to be precise, in the second innings of the Jamaica Test—and their batsmen have to take the majority of the blame for the 0-2 series loss. Also talking in retrospect, could West Indies have been strategically more astute and tested India more than they did?
They could very well have. On the first morning of the third Test, Alzarri Joseph, on his Test debut, showed West Indies and probably the rest of the world too, what they had been missing in the first two Tests of the series, especially with Jerome Taylor having announced his retirement from Test cricket. The St Lucia pitch offered a lot more assistance to the seamers and could be cited as one of the reasons why the West Indies pace attack looked a lot more threatening, however, for the first time in the series, the Indian batting line-up was put through a stringent examination by the West Indies fast bowlers and the visitors batsmen did not really pass that test. Joseph and Shannon Gabriel peppered the Indian batsmen with short-pitched deliveries and for the West Indies, their short-pitch bowling tactic did pay dividends. S Dhawan and Kohli were dismissed off short deliveries, while Rahane too was nearly dismissed by Miguel Cummins hitting the deck hard and getting the ball to rise up to the Mumbai batsman’s throat.
Actually, S Dhawan was tested with a barrage of short deliveries by Gabriel in the first Test in Antigua as well, but the West Indies only had one out-and-out quick in their playing XI and Holder and Carlos Brathwaite did not have the pace of Gabriel or Joseph to effectively bounce the Indian batsmen.
West Indies did under-utilise the short-pitch tactic, given that a lot of the Indian batsmen, over the years, have shown susceptibility against short-pitch deliveries. West Indies did not have the bowlers who could have exploited the Indian batsmen with quick, hostile, short-pitch bowling, but Joseph is a bright prospect for the West Indies, who, if they want to improve as a Test side, ought to nurture him and try to build an attack around Joseph and the reliable and lethal Gabriel.
What Next for S Dhawan?
The Delhi left-hander, along with Rohit, has had a long rope in the Indian Test line-up, but is yet to seal his place in the side. With 138 runs in four innings at an average of 34.5, S Dhawan will be disappointed with how he fared in the West Indies. In his last 10 Tests including the three he played during India’s tour of West Indies 2016, S Dhawan has made a couple of big centuries, against Bangladesh (173) and Srilanka (134), one half-century (84) and has an average of 43.4. Those are good stats for a Test opener, but with S Dhawan and even his ODI opening partner, you can never really be sure of what you will get with them.
His poor showing at the top of the order in the first three Tests of the 2014 Pataudi Trophy, saw him being dropped for the final Test, just as he was for the Trinidad Test against the Windies.
Against a poor West Indies attack, S Dhawan made just a solitary half-century and during India’s tours of England (in July-August 2014) and South Africa (in December 2013), S Dhawan failed quite massively too, period. Against the Dale Steyns, Morne Morkels, James Andersons, and Stuart Broads, S Dhawan’s highest score in five Tests and 10 innings was a mere 37. His poor showing at the top of the order in the first three Tests of the 2014 Pataudi Trophy, saw him being dropped for the final Test, just as he was for the Trinidad Test against the Windies. What it tells you is, ‘Dhawan is unreliable and does not quite provide the stability you are looking for in your opener, especially when you tour overseas.’
In case you are wondering how he fared on India’s other overseas tours before the 2016 tour of West Indies, S Dhawan did play well against Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner during India’s tour of New Zealand in January-February 2014, scoring a century and missing out on another by only a couple of runs, and his performances during India’s tour of Australia 2014-15 were par for the course too.
One of the major positives and takeaways from India’s 2-0 series victory in the West Indies has been KL Rahul’s consistency and ability to harness the opportunities he gets, regardless of the format. Having gone to the West Indies as a backup opener, KL Rahul would have wondered, before the series began, if he was going to get at least a game. But fortuitously for the Karnataka batsman, Vijay’s thumb injury saw him drafted into India’s playing XI for the Jamaica Test and his daddy hundred (158) there resulted in the underperforming Pujara being dropped for the St Lucia Test and conspicuously, even the fit-again Vijay not returning to India’s playing XI. With 236 runs in three innings, KL Rahul, by the end of India’s tour of West Indies, has overtaken S Dhawan in the pecking order in the Indian Test side. India have 13 Tests coming up once they return home, against New Zealand (3), England (5), Australia (4), and Bangladesh (1), and S Dhawan’s place in the side is likely to be debated by the Indian selectors.
Positives for the West Indies
Despite India’s 2-0 series victory over the West Indies, the hosts have had quite a few positives come out of what has been their third consecutive home Test series loss to the Indians.
As aforementioned, only once in six innings, excluding West Indies’ first innings of the Trinidad Test, the hosts made more than 300 runs. The hosts did collectively fail to post competitive totals on the board, but some solid individual contributions were made by the West Indies batsmen. The quartet of Blackwood, Kraigg Brathwaite, Chase, and Dowrich played at least a couple of captivating innings—each—which showcased their abilities with the bat. And, going forward, the quartet mentioned above have to be persisted with, for they have the potential to become the ‘mainstays’ of the West Indies batting line-up. Let us face it, this Indian bowling attack was a lethal one, comprising of the likes of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, against whom run scoring was by no means a gimme. Therefore, these West Indies batsmen can be satisfied with how they fared individually, though they have scope for improvement.
In the bowling department, Gabriel and Joseph were the standout bowlers, even if they only bowled four and two times, respectively, during the series against India. Gabriel is genuinely pacey and is capable of striking fear in the batsmen, while Joseph is reasonably quick and a lot more versatile than Gabriel, in that he can swing the ball and also get deliveries to rise from a length—the kind which dismissed Kohli in the St Lucia Test.
An Indian bowler reborn
Nobody envisaged Bhuvneshwar Kumar getting a Test match against the West Indies, with Shami, Ishant and Umesh Yadav ahead of him in the pecking order. Bhuvneshwar has endured a couple of difficult years, during which he has struggled to take wickets for India in ODIs and Tests; in fact, the UP seamer had played in just one Test, against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in January 2015, over the last 20 months—a period during which India played 10 Tests—before replacing Umesh in the Indian playing XI for the third Test against the West Indies and retaining his place for the Trinidad Test. Bhuvneshwar did enjoy a dream IPL 2016 and played an integral role in the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) winning their maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) title, but as aforementioned, for India, he has endured a couple of really difficult seasons.
His spell during the post-lunch session on day four of the St Lucia Test was an absolutely astonishing one, as he combined his natural ability to swing the ball both ways with lethal pace. The pace at which he bowled was the highlight of the spell that saw him pick 5/14 in 8.2 overs and also paved the way for a series-clinching victory for India. If Bhuvneshwar can continue to bowl at the speeds, which were nearly 140 KMPH, he bowled in St Lucia, and swing the ball as well, he, without a shadow of doubt, will be an asset for India.
The Indian bowlers, collectively, fared well in the Caribbean and were a treat to watch on almost 13 of the 14 days of cricket over four Tests. The current bowling attack comprising of Ishant, Shami, Bhuvneshwar, Umesh, and Ashwin, does bode well for India’s upcoming home series and future overseas tours too.
This Indian Test side led by Kohli, is full of hunger and determination and, against a weak West Indies side, they made sure that their performance levels did not drop. India, as aforementioned, do have a few weak links that need to be looked into closely before the start of the home series against New Zealand on the 22nd of September, when the first of three Tests begins at the Green Park in Kanpur. Overall, though, Kohli’s India will be satisfied with the way they played in the four Tests against the West Indies. The hosts too have had a few positives come out of the home series against India and if this unit can stay together for a year or two, then West Indies do have the potential to resurrect themselves.