“Patient” India look to Consolidate Top 2 Spot
For the first time since early December, the Indian team will don the whites to play what many regard as cricket’s ultimate format. In that period of seven months, there have been changes in Indian cricket. Ravi Shastri is not the Team Director anymore, and he has been replaced as Head Coach by the legendary Anil Kumble.
For captain Virat Kohli, this is another chance to assert his credentials as the man to lead India forward. Kohli has not lost any of the three full series that has been captain for, and if not for torrential rains in Dhaka, it might easily have been that Kohli wouldn’t have come out of a full series as captain without winning it.
But, the message the team is sending out far from the brash, belligerent man Kohli is seen as. Through the last week, senior players like Ravi Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane have stressed on the importance of patience, attrition and the need to play “boring” cricket.
Something else has changed as well. For the first time in a long time, India have gone in to an overseas Test series with a considerable acclimatization period behind them. The team have been in the Carribean for almost a fortnight and they have played two practice matches in that time.
India have a few questions that need to be answered. Most importantly, do they play five bowlers and trust the quality of the batsmen, or do they need the insurance of an extra batsman?
So far, Kohli has almost always favoured playing the extra bowler, with either Ravindra Jadeja or Stuart Binny filling in at no. 7 as the all-rounder. That is most likely to be the pattern that will continue, as all of Jadeja, Amit Mishra and Ravi Ashwin have been among the wickets in the warm-up games.
On the evidence of India’s practice sessions after reaching Antigua, the squad seems to have been narrowed down to 13, with Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur and Rohit Sharma seemingly out of contention for a place in the eleven. In that case, India have two decisions to make – whether Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul partners Murali Vijay at the top of the order and whether they prefer the spinning or the seaming all-rounder between Jadeja and Binny.
The West Indies on their part come into the series after a decent outing in last month’s tri-series that also included Australia and South Africa, where they lost to the Aussies in the final. That has been followed by the Carribean Premier League T20 tournament.
For some of the players, the most important thing will be to make the switch between the formats, as the likes of Jason Holder, Darren Bravo, Carlos Brathwaite and Shannon Gabriel have all been instrumental for their franchises in the CPL.
Shai Hope has not been named in the squad despite scoring a century in the first warm-up game for the WICB President’s XI.
A lot will depend on the captain and vice-captain – Jason Holder and Kraigg Brathwaite. Holder will have to be at his best in all facets of the game, and Brathwaite will be the one tasked with ensuring a steady start for the rest of the battling lineup to build on. And, it is an extremely capable batting lineup with the likes of Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels capable of producing brilliance. The only question is whether they can provide that consistently.
West Indies were hit by unsavoury events after Denesh Ramdin’s tirade against the selectors for dropping him. But that provides another opportunity for 24-year old Shane Dowrich who makes it to the Test side again, after last featuring in June 2015 against Australia.
The bowlers will be led by Holder and Gabriel, who had an outstanding tri-series. Devendra Bishoo will be the lead spinner, and he will have to bear a lot of the workload. Young Miguel Cummins has been called to replace the now retired Jerome Taylor and this might be his big break on the world stage.
All in all, a fascinating series awaits as an ever-improving West Indies side looks to take its first big scalp in a long time. For India, it is about settling into the Kumble era and making a good start to a season in which they are scheduled to play seventeen Test matches.
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