West Indies Face Herculean Task Against India
Steep decline in West Indies cricket
A few facts would underline the herculean task that the West Indies team faces while taking on India in the two-Test series that starts at Rajkot on Thursday.
Out of the last eight Tests that they have played in India spread over three visits in the new millennium the West Indies have not won even one. They have lost six and drawn two. In fact the last time the West Indies won a Test series in India was in 1983-84 when they were one of the greatest teams of all time brushing aside all opponents and winning quite often in three days or by an innings and plenty. Over the next two visits to India in 1987-88 and 1994-95 the series was drawn 1-1. Indeed West Indies is one side India have beaten consistently not only at home but also away. They have won the last three Test series in the Caribbean in 2006, 2011 and 2016.
The steep decline in West Indies cricket over the last couple of decades has been well documented. They have just not been able to find adequate replacements for the giants that graced the game in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in batting and Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in bowling did their best to stem the tide but after they left the scene the decline has been alarming. They might still have their moments when it comes to limited overs cricket for the players have a natural flair for the shorter versions of the game but in Test cricket their record has been woeful symbolized by their No 8 place in the ICC rankings.
It is not that Jason Holder’s squad is without experience. Pace bowler Kemar Roach for example has played 48 Tests while opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite has appeared in 49. Others who have figured in a sizeable number of Tests are Shannon Gabriel (37), Kieran Powell (36), Holder (34), Devendra Bishoo (32), Shane Dowrich (23), Shai Hope (22) and Roston Chase (22). But their performances have rarely lit up the international arena. A glance at their mediocre career figures will illustrate this and underline the fact that winning the series in India is Mission Impossible for the visitors.
Moreover they are up against an Indian side that can do little wrong at home. However indifferent their away record may be in home conditions they are invincible. Only the greatest of Test sides have won a series here and in the new millennium these can be counted on the fingers of one hand – South Africa in 2000, Australia in 2004 and England in 2012. And when the two current teams are placed alongside India’s greater class, skill and experience stand out. .
Coming to the Indian team picked for the series it must be said that there are no real surprises. The axing of Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, the inclusion of Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw and the choice of the three spin bowlers have been a long expected lines as also the selection of Mohammed Siraj once it was decided to rest Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah and with Ishant Sharma still not fully recovered from his ankle injury. The 24-year-old Hyderabad medium pacer has been in great form having picked up 40 wickets in nine first class innings including a eleven wicket haul against Australia A and is fully deserving of a place in the squad.
Even the playing eleven should pose no problems for the team management. One of Agarwal or Shaw will walk out with Lokesh Rahul to open the innings. The muddle in the middle order may still have to be solved in ODIs but there are no such issues when it comes to the Test squad with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane taking their rightful places. Rishabh Pant walks in next in the batting order and then come the all rounders Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The two senior pace bowlers Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami will share the new ball.
One place remains and it is here that the team management will have to weigh the options. Should they pick the extra batsman in Hanuma Vihari who can also chip in with a few overs as he so successfully did against England at the Oval last month? Or should they go in for a third pace bowler in Siraj or Shardul Thakur? The third choice is to go in for a third spinner in Kuldeep Yadav. Personally I feel the last is the best option. The West Indians are notorious when it comes to negotiating top class spin bowling. They are even more vulnerable against bowling of the unorthodox variety and Kuldeep with his mixture of chinamen and left arm googlies could well turn out to be a trump card.
Overall it is a team that should get the better of a West Indies side short on quality players. The top ranked side coming up against opponents placed eighth in the ICC rankings and with the home advantage behind them should prove to be a no-contest. All Virat Kohli and his men have to guard against is complacency.