INDIA TOUR OF WEST INDIES, 2019
Can Rahane end his century drought? © AFP
Confident start for Vihari
Has been helped by a couple of hit-me deliveries from Chase. Short and wide and Vihari is happy to cut them past backward point for a two and a four.
New ball available now and Gabriel is thrown the cherry. Decent progress from India despite that early Kohli wicket. They’ve added 26 runs from the 8 overs with the old ball.
An early wicket – Kohli falls
If West Indies were asked to pick a cricketing cliche ahead of the day’s play – pretty sure the would have gone for “just the start we want. They’ve started with spin from one end (a fit-again Miguel Cummins producing the oomph from the other) and Roston Chase has sent back Kohli.
It’s your prototypical offspinner starting on middle and going towards leg, Kohli closes the bat face early on his flick and the leading edge pops up to cover The Indian captain does not add to his overnight score of 51.
Rahane still in and with a chance to score his first Test ton in nearly two years. Speaking of stats, what about this one on the disparity of Kohli’s conversion rates between first and second innings. But you must remember, pitch conditions generally deteriorate and are not the best for batting.
Day 4 – Prelude
England routed India 4-1 at home and blanked the Sri Lankans 3-0 at their home and landed in the Caribbean a confident and buoyant No. 2 ranked side in the Test world. West Indies, eighth in the rankings, were reeling from losing back-to-back series 0-2 to India and Bangladesh.
Yet, in a remarkable seven days of cricketing action, the Test series was decided with the home team taking an unassailable 2-0 lead and dumping England down to fifth in the rankings. This, as they say, is why they play the games.
There is a cautionary tale for India in that humiliating series loss of England, as they embark on their two Tests series on August 22, against the West Indies. Led by their resourceful skipper Jason Holder, and a fast bowling corps that is every bit as good as any currently going around, and batsmen capable of digging in and hitting out, especially in their home conditions, West Indies are no easy pushovers.
India should treat this as the potential banana peel series that it is, as their march for a date with the final of the World Test Championship at Lord’s in the summer of 2021 begins. India cannot afford to lose the series if they are to hold on to their top ranking. India are yet to lose a Test to the West Indies in this decade, winning 9 of the 14 Tests played, and the rest drawn. India are the No.1 ranked Test side in the world and have been so for nearly three years running.
West Indies have retained essentially the same squad that beat England earlier this year. Left arm spinner Jomel Warrican has been replaced by the big hitting, big spinning, big Antiguan Rahkeem Cornwall, who would be looking forward to making his Test debut in his home ground. Alzarri Joseph, another Antiguan, has been lost to injury, while Keemo Paul retained his Test spot in the squad after being pushed in to play when Holder was suspended for the dead rubber against England due to over rate suspension.
India would be donning whites for the first time – with names and numbers on their backs, no less – since their epochal series victory over Australia in Australia. Even as they trounced the West Indies in the limited-overs leg of the tour by margins of 3-0 in T20Is and 2-0 in ODIs, Test matches are a different kettle of fish.
For a side that has been at the top of the world Test rankings for 34 months, India still have a few questions to mull over before Virat Kohli walks out to the center of the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for the toss on Thursday.
With the 61-Tests experience of Murali Vijay out of the scene, and Shikhar Dhawan not in favour since the tour of England in 2018, and the loss of the young gun Prithvi Shaw first to injury, and then to a drug suspension, the key opening spots are a weak link in this India team. While Mayank Agarwal rushed in for the Boxing Day Test as a replacement was impressive, his state teammate KL Rahul should count himself lucky to be in the side and possibly opening the innings averaging just 35 after 34 Tests.
Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane pushed himself up the order to open in the second innings of the only tour game against West Indies A, replacing Rahul. So, who’ll be walking out with Mayank? Only Kohli knows at this point, given that even Hanuma Vihari has done well in both innings of the tour game and showed some ticker opening the innings while facing the Aussie pacers down under.
Some of the India’s bowlers are coming off a long layoff; Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and R Ashwin have not been on national duty since the Australian series; Jasprit Bumrah was probably wrapped in cotton wool after the World Cup semi final exit. India’s prospects in this series will depend on three of these four gentlemen, most certainly.
And then there is Indian cricket’s most favorite and vexing question: Should Rohit Sharma be in the playing XI? Kohli has shown the propensity of using a five-man bowling attack in which case, Rohit will certainly miss out but if the Indian management deems the use of four bowlers, there might be a spot for him.
England and West Indies used a seamer-loaded attack at the ground in North Sound in February early this year and if the conditions are similar, India could opt for three seamers and the question of the choice of spinner between Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav pops up. The second Test of the series is at Sabina Park, Jamaica, which even though may not hold the same threat of yesteryears, might pose similar questions of bowling combinations.
West Indies on the other hand are most likely to play the same XI that defeated England at Bridgetown, Barbados with Rahkeem Cornwall making his debut in place of the injured Alzarri Joseph.
It is a weird, wild world of cricket where the eighth ranked side has the more settled look while the top ranked team has questions to answer. But then, India has played the same XI in consecutive Tests just once under the captaincy of Kohli in 46 Tests, so they must be quite accustomed to the fluidity in their playing side. Despite all their changes, they have held onto the mantle of the top Test team in the world for so long. And that is why, as is said, they play the games.