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Two-nil or nothing

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West_Indies_India_Test_series_cricketThe Indian Test team has been performing very well under the leadership of Virat Kohli, enjoying memorable series victories in Sri Lanka and against South Africa at home. They seem to be well rested and well prepared for the upcoming Test series in the West Indies. The BCCI ensured that the team landed in the West Indies more than 2 weeks before the first Test and that they played 2 practice games prior to the first match. They also had a rigorous preparatory camp in India before that.

The West Indies, on the other hand, have lost 6 of their last 7 Tests and lost all 3 of those Test series. Their team isn’t at the top of their game and internal disputes have ensured that some of their top players are unavailable for selection for Test matches. Also, any victory in Test matches against a top opposition is a rarity these days.

From what we have seen of the pitches in West Indies of late, they have been dry, devoid of grass, and helpful to spinners. Also, given the cricket which has been played recently at most grounds – the WI-Aus-SA Tri Series and the CPL – the pitches are weary and expected to further help the spinners. We saw that in the practice games as well where the Indian spinners spun a web around the opposition. Jadeja seemed especially threatening.

 

The Indian Test team under Virat Kohli has employed a strategy of playing just 5 batsmen. This is different from MS Dhoni, who would typically play it safe with 6 batsmen. Virat Kohli’s positive approach is a step in the right direction as it ensures he has 5 bowling options at his disposal. Defensive bowling strategy was one of the reasons India won just 4 Tests (out of 26) outside Asia under Dhoni’s leadership. That Ashwin, Mishra and Jadeja can all score some runs also helps with the balance. India is expected to play 3 frontline spinners for a majority of the series.

India’s batting looks very well settled. Murali Vijay has been India’s best Test batsmen over the last few years and Virat Kohli is in the form of his life. Ajinkya Rahane has performed exceptionally well outside India, and there is very healthy competition for spots in the playing XI amongst Pujara, KL Rahul, Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. This is a good problem to have and ensures that none of the batsmen take their place in the playing XI for granted. Even in the bowling department, replacements are available if any player is injured or isn’t performing up to expectations.

Newly appointed coach Anil Kumble has also given the impression that he is a meticulous planner. The ample time available before his first series as coach will surely help him. But it must be noted that Duncan Fletcher’s first assignment as coach was the tour to West Indies in 2011. India won the ODI, T20 as well as the Test Series on that tour but went downhill after that. Kumble needs to ensure that even if India wins this series comprehensively, they should be mindful of the challenges they will face at home later this season and not be complacent.

It seems that this Test series will be decided based on how often the Indian bowlers can take 20 wickets. Having 5 bowlers on these slow pitches helps their cause. The West Indies will be facing an uphill task against a formidable Indian team. Jason Holder has to inspire his team, and the players need to respond with better than expected performances for them to put up a challenge. A lot rests on senior batsmen Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo. The current West Indies batting revolves around them and it will be up to them to ensure the Windies put up respectable totals and offer resistance.

Given the current situation of the teams and how things stand, India should be very disappointed with anything less than 2-0 victory margin. The Indian team has a long, very long, home season ahead with 13 Test matches. They have the No. 1 ranking in Test matches in their sights. This series is meant to be a stepping stone for that. One hopes that the team plays with a much more positive outlook than the one they had in Dominica when they toured last time.

 

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