Having sealed both the T20I and ODI series, India have made intentions clear that they will be going all guns blazing when the Test series begins against West Indies on 22 August at Antigua. Virat Kohli will aim for a 3-0 scoreline on this tour to make a big impact after losing the World Cup semi-finals. With the next India head coach puzzle also solved, the dressing room would be more relaxed and at peace as things return to normalcy with no one under any undue pressure.
India are a formidable Test side, and with return of format specialists like R Ashwin, Cheteshwar Pujara, the squad becomes even more stronger. Not to forget that Jasprit Bumrah returns as well to add the missing punch in the bowling attack.
While the series offers great entertainment, it will also be interesting to follow some players' individual performances. Let us look at five Indian players who will be keenly watched in the Test series.
Rohit Sharma: Rohit is 32. Has played in 27 Tests so far, yet he is not a regular in the XI. There are many reasons for that including his own form at the start of his Test career, lack of opportunities and then lack of space in the India batting order filled with stalwarts. His stop-start Test career has surprised many who expected him to be among India's best Test batsmen by now. Since last couple of years, every Test series for which Rohit is picked, is an opportunity for the Hitman to guarantee a place in XI. He was ignored for the Tests in England last year and was not picked in the squad for West Indies Tests at home.
Virat Kohli, however, opted to take him to Australia where Rohit played just 2 Tests out of 4 and scored just one fifty in four innings. He was picked for the West Indies Tests this year for he has been in a phenomenal form in ODIs for India of late. He ended up as the highest run-getter in World Cup and while he could not post a big score in limited-overs series against Windies, he looked in same World Cup touch with the bat. On the opening day of the warm-up Test against West Indies A, Rohit hit 68 to make his case stronger. However, it will be interesting to see where Rohit plays in the XI if Kohli is too eager to include him. Would the Indian captain take a risk and ask him to open, a role he understands in limited overs cricket? Would he ask either an all-rounder to sit or Hanuma Vihari to rest to make a place for Rohit? That only time will tell. But if Rohit ends up playing both Tests, he would want to make abundance of run irrespective of where he bats. West Indies in Caribbean is a great opportunity for him to re-launch his Test career.
Rishabh Pant: Pant, who was expected to be a limited-overs sensation for India has failed remarkably in the shorter formats. On the other hand, he has a Test average of 49.71, two centuries against England and Australia, with his highest being 157. Pant has shown great maturity in whites than in coloured clothing. Called midway through the World Cup, Pant performed below expectations in whatever games he played. Then against West Indies, he played just one innings in the T20I series which showed his quality. His lack of runs in shorter formats has been among key issues for head coach Shastri and Kohli. On 22 August, the wicket-keeper/batsman returns to his favourite format. All eyes will be on him when he comes out to bat in the first Test. He will remember that there is additional pressure for him in the dressing room now in form of Wriddhiman Saha, who is a way better wicket-keeper than him. If Pant wants to make sure he features regularly in XI, he will have to outdo his limited-overs self and find form in Tests.
Ajinkya Rahane: Ajinkya Rahane has been struggling to score big in Tests for some time now. Having been completely sidelined in ODIs and T20s, Tests remain the only stage for the right-handed batsman from Mumbai to make an impact with the bat. However, he has consistently struggled to get going in this format as well for India for the last two years now. Rahane's last ton came against Sri Lanka at Colombo in August of 2017. Since then, he has scored only five half-centuries in 30 innings. In first innings of the warm-up clash, Rahane walked back for just 1. He played seven matches for Hamphsire in County Championships where he scored one hundred and one fifty in 13 innings. There have been two major reasons why he has been assured of a place in the side despite his average performances. One, India have done considerably well in Tests in last 3 years. Two, Kohli has immense confidence in his batting abilities and relishes his role as a vice-captain as well during crunch times. But Rahane knows that he needs a big hundred to make sure the faith posed in him as one of the key caretakers of Indian cricket remains intact. Watch out for him if India is struggling somewhere at 20 for 3.
Kuldeep Yadav: Kuldeep had a good start in the World Cup 2019 but somewhere in the middle of the tournament, he lost his midas touch. He along with Yuzvendra Chahal were India's game-changers in the middle overs. However, the sudden lack of form of the two made it difficult for Kohli to choose a XI. In the two ODIs that he played recently against West Indies, he ended up with three wickets. He was a better bowler, bowling with good pace and variations. Kuldeep, however, has tough competition from Ravindra Jadeja who bowls exceptionally well in tandem with Ashwin. There are chances that India may go in with three spinners if the surface is spin friendly, knowing majority of Windies batters don't play spin well. Kuldeep's variety is the reason why he features for India across all formats and is expected to be back at the peak of his powers against Windies in their own den.
R Ashwin: Ashwin is a certain starter for India. He has been missing from action for quiet some time now. Ashwin, who plays only Tests for India these days, tried his hand in County Cricket and had a successful stint as well. He was consistently picking five-fors and scoring runs for his side Nottinghamshire. Ashwin is someone who Kohli depends on to run through the middle-order. He along with other spinners has been doing the job for India so far. Now with absence of Hardik Pandya, we may also see him bat up the order. He is someone who works hard on his bowling and tries a different variation every now and then. Recently in the Tamil Nadu Premier League, Ashwin bowled with only one hand to fox the batsmen. While he may not try that adventure for India in Tests, it would be interesting to see if he has added any other variation to his arsenal.
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Rohit Sharma also conceded that "incomparable" Sri Lankan pace legend Lasith Malinga, who has opted out of this year's IPL, will be severely missed by his defending champion team given his "unbelievable" past performances.
"It is not easy to play long innings here. It takes a lot out of you to play in these conditions. Maybe I was a bit tired in the end and it was a lesson for us that one set batsmen needs to bat deep till the end," Rohit said.
Kuldeep Yadav got just four wickets from nine matches in 2019 and was dropped from KKR after logging an average of 71.50 and an economy rate of 8.66.