AFP/North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda
India look set to extend their decade-long dominance over West Indies when the first match of a two-Test series starts at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here today.
Having swept the T20 series 3-0 and taken the ODI contest 2-0, Virat Kohli’s India are bursting with confidence going into their first Test match since the historic series triumph in Australia at the start of the year.
In contrast, the West Indies have gone off the boil since dominating England in the home series in the Caribbean six months ago and then going toe-to-toe with the same opponents in the subsequent ODI series.
A whitewash in the tour-ending T20 skirmish, followed by the removal of controversial head coach Richard Pybus and a disappointing World Cup campaign has left Jason Holder’s men with much lost ground to reclaim.
And on the evidence of the limited-over leg of India’s visit, and especially Kohli’s irresistible form with the bat, it will be asking a lot of the West Indies to get the better of the tourists and claim a first Test match victory over India for more than 17 years.
However, if the home team can recapture the Holder-inspired dominance of England achieved earlier this year, there is hope that they will be able to match up to an Indian team well prepared for the longer version of the game.
For India Chesteshwar Pujara, who reeled off three centuries in the four Tests in Australia, has already picked up from where he left off Down Under in notching up three figures in the lone warm-up fixture against a regional representative team last weekend.
It remains to be seen whether selectors will include Rohit Sharma — a fixture at the top of the order in limited-over matches — in the middle-order and whether the exciting young talent of Rishabh Pant will keep experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha in the dressing room.
Spinner Ravi Ashwin, ‘Man of the Series’ when India dominated the home side in the Caribbean three years ago, could find himself on the sidelines with Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav seen as the prime contenders for the specialist spinner’s role.
A change of policy in preparation has seen the pitch in Antigua, and indeed all Test match venues in the Caribbean, being more fast bowler-friendly since the start of last year.
That could favour the visitors who have a trio in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma very capable of exploiting helpful conditions.
Not that the West Indies will be daunted by that prospect, for in Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Holder and all-rounder Keemo Paul, they have the firepower to challenge India’s vaunted batting line-up, as the English found to their cost in February.
However, the outcome of the first Test could ultimately hinge on batting, and whether the West Indies can defy a determined, world-class bowling attack to post competitive totals.
West Indies: Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Darren Bravo, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (wicketkeeper), Keemo Paul, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel
India: Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma.
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