The first game of the four-Test series between India and West Indies has already reached its conclusion, and most of us are yet to raise an eyebrow after its events. There was hardly any surprise in India’s dominating victory, their first-ever innings win in the Caribbean, as the visitors went 1-0 up.
Everything went according to plan, whether piling a massive score on the board, or bundling the hosts out for a little over 200 in the next couple of days. Even though the hosts showed occasional flashes of individual brilliance and resilience, it was never going to be enough to try and upset India’s plans of getting off to a successful start in their pursuit of a 4-0 result.
For newly-appointed coach Anil Kumble, who recently managed to beat Ravi Shastri to the top job, every department of the Indian team functioning as a well-oiled machine would have come as a pleasant sight as he got off to a winning start in his new role.
The stark difference in professionalism between the two sides, as well as the lack of star power in West Indies compared to that of a full strength Indian one did play its roles in deciding the fate of the first Test, which might go on to become a defining pattern for the rest of the series. However, talking about surprises, it was quite refreshing to see the Indian bowling attack fire as a whole in both the West Indian innings, rather than relying on individual excellence to fetch the results.
Perhaps the biggest gain for the Indians in this Test was the successful return of Mohammed Shami to international cricket. Having last featured in the heart-breaking semi-final loss to Australia in the 2015 World Cup, Shami was confined out of the field for a period of 18 months thanks to a knee surgery.
Few would have expected him to produce the kind of spells that he did in his comeback match, for the way he troubled the West Indian batsmen with a barrage of short balls, and bowled along an attacking channel to grab a four-wicket haul in the first innings made it look as if he had been bowling at the top level all those months.
What was even better was the fact that Shami seems to have retained his pace and his ability to obtain reverse swing, and that certainly is great news for the Indian team with the long home Test season that lies ahead of them. Like Shami, Umesh Yadav too was impressive with his bounce and swing, as the duo shared eight wickets in the first innings to ensure the follow-on.
Ravichandran Ashwin, whose rise in international cricket since his international debut in 2010 to become India’s first-choice spinner across formats, had been having a mixed run in 2016. While he produced devastating spells against Sri Lanka in the T20I series earlier this year, he registered below-par performances both in the tour of Australia as well as in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League.
However, the way he ran through the West Indian batting order in their second innings to record his second-best Test figures of 7/83 was his way of announcing his return to form. The Tamil Nadu offie managed to create pressure early on the fourth day with a couple of early breakthroughs, and his utilisation of the drift created by the strong breeze that helped scalp dangerous batsmen Marlon Samuels and Jason Holder, completed the annihilation of the misfiring West Indian lineup. Add a stroke-filled century to that performance, and Ashwin has already presented a strong case for him to be considered a genuine all-rounder.
The experienced Amit Mishra, whom one can safely describe as a talent that has been underutilised by the Indians for long, has been of valuable support to Ashwin when Virat Kohli chose to employ spin from both ends. Mishra played a supporting role in the just-concluded Test, and will definitely look to steal the spotlight from Ashwin in the coming games, if he is retained that is.
The one area where the pacers and spinners need to improve upon is their ability to finish what they start, which, sadly, they couldn’t as a result of complacency. The result would have been a much-more lop-sided one had it not been for the lower-order bravery displayed by skipper Holder as well as World T20 hero Carlos Brathwaite, and they managed to drag the West Indian innings past the 200-run mark on both occasions.
While their progress in the series so far has been great, improvement in this aspect by not letting their guard down after the fall of eight-odd wickets would make it superb.
Coming back to the positive aspects of the bowling performance, the manner in which the pacers and spinners worked together towards achieving the common goal of upsetting the opposition bodes well for the Indian cricket team, not just for whitewashing the series, but for the road ahead. With the bowling team functioning as a proper unit, with the batting department doing its job, there is little stopping the Indians from becoming the No 1 team again.