Day one of a possible twenty, but already our expectations may have been met. The tourists are the world number two Test side according to the ICC’s rankings, but their aim is to rise higher. Their hosts, meanwhile, are placed at number eight, but on the evidence of this first day, their immediate ambition is restricted to just getting through this match. Perhaps that is realistic, but the difference in approach of the two sides was so marked, that one suspects only one of them is likely to improve in the coming months.
India have prepared well, and entered this first Test with confidence and self-belief – and the intention to win. The West Indies by contrast seem to have little more than hope that they might save the game.
That was the signal before even a ball was bowled. The visitors chose boldly and opted to play five bowlers – even if it meant the trade-off was a weakened batting order that saw Ravi Ashwin coming in at number six. But such is the risk positive teams are prepared to take if they think their best chance of victory is to have a full-handed complement in their attack. Such an approach deserves reward.
The Windies, conversely, did the opposite. It is a popular maxim that ‘attack is the best form of defence’. The selectors, in packing their team with all-rounders to do the bulk of the bowling, seem to believe it’s the other way round: defence is the best form of attack. It didn’t take long for this to be exposed as folly.
India won the toss and sensibly opted for first use of the pitch. Shannon Gabriel, the Windies’ fast-bowling spearhead took the new-ball, and was quick, accurate and hostile. He made both openers jump around the crease to fend the ball away from their throat unconvincingly – and kept wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich hopping around on his tiptoes. Shikhar Dharwan had already lobbed up a couple of possible opportunities into empty spaces from high off his bat when his partner, Murali Vijay was unable to control a steep climber that he guided to second slip.
This was the early breakthrough West Indies craved to try and unsettle their opponents. Unfortunately, thanks to their negative team selection, Gabriel’s cannon-fire was only supported at the other end by pop-guns.
Skipper Jason Holder shared the new-ball, and while a promising seamer, he is no strike bowler – and his floaty lollipops weren’t much of a threat. The difference between the challenge of Gabriel at one end and his partner at the other was most notable when they pitched short: one was menacing and hurried the batsmen; the other was pulled away with ease. India were able to recover from the early loss, see off Gabriel, and bat carefully for the remainder of the pre-lunch session.
West Indies had just the one potent quick bowler, and a seam-up support cast of ‘steady-as-she-goes’. First change was Carlos Brathwaite, another useful but unremarkable seamer, and he also lacked the required cutting edge that WI needed if they were to make further inroads. What they were missing was Miguel Cummins, left out of the starting XI, who would have proved a decent foil to Gabriel. Leaving out Cummins was an act of cowardice. To win, Windies need to take twenty wickets. But how do you do that with only one proper opening bowler?
Cummins will have to wait another day to make his Test debut. His Barbados team-mate, Roston Chase did make his. And it was he, incredibly, with his tidy but un-threatening off-spin who was called upon to bowl the innings’ twelfth over. If the selection of Windies’ bowling attack for this Test had been disappointing, the employment of those resources by captain Holder was mystifying. With a ball barely a dozen overs old on the first morning of a Test, he had medium-pace stock bowling at one end and slow off-breaks at the other. Even more bizarrely, Chase bowled more overs than anyone else before lunchtime: eight. One wondered if the skipper even considered attack as an option?
The approach was clear – WI are here in Antigua aiming for a draw. While India had Ashwin at six, the Windies will have numbers 6-9 in the order taken by batting all-rounder Chase (who averaged 59 for Barbados last year); wicket-keeper Dowrich (who was picked for WI last year as a specialist top-order batsman); Holder (already with a Test ton to his name); and Carlos Brathwaite (he of six-hitting, T20 World Cup winning fame). They will look silly if their batting, and their plan, misfires.
Straight after lunch, Windies only other attacking bowling option entered the fray: leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, and he had immediate reward – as Cheteshwar Pujara top-edged a hideously miscued pull to cover. It was the only success they had in the session – until the final over before the interval, when Bishoo struck again, removing Dhawan, plumb in front swishing across a straight one. He departed for 84, having added 105 for the third wicket with captain Virat Kohli.
Kohli continued on, and oozed class as he made a stylish, undefeated century. He lost Ajinkya Rahane, who softly tapped a checked shot from a Bishoo long-hop directly to mid-wicket. But Kohli built steadily and shepherded Ashwin through to the close; and India’s score of 302-4 already looks imposing.
Whether their eventual total will prove to be a match-winning one will be determined largely by West Indies’ first innings – and whether their lengthy batting-order can withstand India’s five-pronged bowling line-up. We won’t have to wait long to find out which one was the shrewder team selection.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2016 11:13:44 IST