Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, North Sound, Antigua
August 22-26, 19:00 IST
Live on Sony Pictures Network, streaming on SonyLiv
The main picture
West Indies began the year with promise, beating England 2-1 in a three-Test series before drawing 2-2 in the ODI series, against a comparatively stronger England one-day side too. The fast bowling quartet of Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, and captain Jason Holder razed through the English batting line-up in the first two Tests to help secure the series. The pitches were helpful but the bowling was incisive and exposed the batsmen’s technical deficiencies. Those performances and results, which were achieved as a collective ultimately, formed the basis for renewed expectations going into the World Cup and whet our appetite for India’s tour of the Caribbean even with a good six months left.
The fear was that it might be one of those occasional highs for the current West Indies side, whose achilles heel has been their consistency. Holder and his men have suffered a series of lows since the uplifting first two legs of the series against England, who whitewashed the World T20 champion in the three-T20I series on the same tour, and will begin the two-match Test series against India having not registered a win in five completed matches on the tour.
West Indies, though, have a couple of new faces in the Test squad (Rahkeem Cornwall and Shamarh Brooks) to go with opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite and wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich, who are Test specialists. These players come into the Test series devoid of the baggage of failures in the T20Is and ODIs but must adapt quickly to the intensity and step up in quality of the No. 1-ranked India.
India themselves have a number of players who are fresh, hungry and, more importantly, established at the Test level. Those factors don’t necessarily make India a tougher team to face and rustiness could be an issue too for Test specialists Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma among others who haven’t, but for the three-day tour match at St John’s, played a lot of competitive cricket in the lead-up to the series.
The Indian team management have the challenge to read the conditions correctly—an aspect that has deserted the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri duo often in overseas Tests—and pick the right combination. Rahane and Rohit Sharma are in a two-way battle for the No. 5 batting position, while India are likely to play two spinners and three seamers, giving themselves the best chance of taking 20 wickets.
The first Test marks the start of the World Test Championship campaign for India and West Indies, with 60 points up for grabs straight away.
Pitch report and weather forecast
The pacers took 27 of the 30 wickets that fell in the West Indies-England Test played here earlier this year. That pitch had good grass cover, offering appreciable bounce and movement. You can expect a similar pitch with assistance for pacers, at least early on, in the Test starting tomorrow.
Some amount of rain has been forecast for all five days of the Test.
India vs West Indies 1st Test playing 11
West Indies playing 11: 1 Jason Holder (c), 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 John Campbell, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Shai Hope, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Roston Chase, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Shannon Gabriel, 11 Shamarh Brooks
India playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Ravichandran Ashwin, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ishant Sharma
With the quality of fast bowlers in both teams, it does promise to be an intriguing battle between bat and ball. The team who bat better will give themselves a good chance of winning.