India have been unbeaten over the West Indies on their trips to the Caribbean for over a decade. They've won 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0 on the last three sojourns with their last defeat coming in 2002 (1-2). More recently, the dominance has been across formats with convincing wins in 2016 and 2017 (in limited-overs). The same level has been maintained on this tour as well with 3-0 and 2-0 scorelines in T20Is and ODIs.
Things shift to the longer format with the advent of the first Test at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Thursday. To make things interesting for both teams, and the cricketing world as a whole, it forms part of the ICC World Test Championship. The two-Test series implies each match is worth 60 points for the winner and Virat Kohli-captained India would be eager of extending their dominance to the Tests as well - especially with a trophy at stake come 2021. To boost the team's confidence, they are playing their first Test since the historic series win in Australia.
For India, the concerns surround team selection more than their ability to last on an overseas tour. With Prithvi Shaw unavailable, Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul will likely open for India. Hero of the series in Australia Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli follow right after. However, the Indian think tank have a dilemma in their hands when it comes to the rest of the batting line up.
With no Hardik Pandya, India could go with two specialist batsmen. But it is a difficult choice to make between Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari. Rohit struck a 68 in the first innings of the warm-up match with Vihari getting 64 and Rahane, in the opening slot, getting 54 in the second innings. So, all three look in good form but with Rahane being the vice-captain, he could end up slotting in at No 5. In the end, it could all boil down to Rohit vs Vihari for the last batting spot.
The conundrum continues with the wicketkeeping role as well. With Wriddhiman Saha injured for 18 months, Rishabh Pant came in and helped by hundreds in England and Australia, has made a serious case for selection. To keep the task difficult for the skipper and coach, Saha has hit two fifties for India A on tour of West Indies.
With six batsmen in play, one keeper and three seamers (Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami), it leaves space for just one spinner. A spinner who could create an opening for the seamers to get into and get the hard yards in with plenty of overs if needed. The three options are Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep took a fifer in Sydney and earned hefty praise from Ravi Shastri. In the warm-up encounter, Kuldeep took three wickets to help his nomination further. The other real contender is Ashwin, who took 17 wickets the last time India toured West Indies but is a fitness concern after being unable to complete the series against England and Australia.
But India would be better off not taking West Indies lightly. The last time the Windies played a Test series at home, they shocked England 2-1 with huge wins (by 381 runs and 10 wickets in first and second Test respectively). They shared the ODI series before England blanked them in the shortest format. But, a lot has happened since then. Following a miserable World Cup, the Windies haven't hit the ground running as has shown in the limited over games against India.
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In terms of personnel, coach Richard Pybus has been removed by the WICB and West Indies cricket is once again playing catch up with the rest in getting some form of normalcy away from the pitch.
West Indies Cricket has seen a change in policy which has seen the pitch in Antigua, and all Test match venues in the Caribbean, being more fast bowler-friendly since the start of last year.
This would bode well for the hosts who have the firepower of Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder and all-rounder Keemo Paul in their midst to trouble the Indian batsmen - just the way they did with England.
But the first Test could likely be decided upon who bats better. India have shown tremendous ability in picking up 20 wickets since the tour of South Africa and West Indies should be no different. "I don't think us batsmen have lived up to the standard. We have travelled a lot over the past year-and-a-half and it's been challenging. We lost in England but won in Australia because the batsmen pulled up. As much as individuals stand out. I think it's about batting well as a team and every team wants to put up a strong total on the board for the bowlers to come in and capitalise," said Kohli at the Cricket West Indies' awards night and he couldn't be further from the truth.
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While the Test selection will surely raise some eyebrows later in February, it is time to ponder if the wise men have hit the reset button with their announcement of the ODI and T20I squads for the home series against West Indies.
Virat Kohli, who took over from MS Dhoni midway through the Australian tour back in 2014-15, on Saturday announced his decision to quit Test captaincy.
It is understood that KL Rahul’s first stint as captain hasn’t gone as per expectations and for now, he will have to remain an apprentice under Rohit till he is seen to be ready to lead the national team in near future.