Darren Sammy’s men don’t quite carry the same aura, or experience, of previous Caribbean sides that have toured India. While they are far from pushovers, not even their best should trouble the Indians if they too play at their best.
India were far from at their best in the first Test, and still won by five wickets. The task ahead of the West Indies going into the second Test beginning on Monday, therefore, becomes even more arduous because it’s not often that India have been below par for two matches running in their own backyard.
The gulf in rankings between teams at the global level counts for only that much, and no more. Outcomes are not decided on the difference in ranking points but on what teams do over a five-day period. That’s where, man for man, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys have a tremendous advantage over a West Indian outfit in the process of rebuilding for a while now.
The biggest challenge for the Caribbeans over the next five days will not just be how well they bowl at India’s formidable line-up on what is expected to be a paceless, low-bounce turner, but also how their crease-tied batting cog squares up against the turning ball. At the Kotla, the West Indies had no answers to the guile of R Ashwin and the relentless accuracy of Pragyan Ojha. In the brief turnover period, it’s debatable how much quality time they have put in in a bid to negate the Indian spin threat.
The West Indies seek to translate their ‘fearless’ theme for the series with an aggressive, attacking attitude towards spin. Towards that end, they are set to leave out left-handed opener Kieran Powell and bring back Adrian Barath, fully recovered from injury. Barath is a fluent, free-scoring batsman with the wherewithal and the desire to take the fight to the opposition, though he – and the rest of the team – must draw a judicious balance between giving the bowling respect and looking to counter-attack blindly.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul showed the way in the first Test, but the virtuoso has always been an accomplished player of the turning ball who is unafraid to use his feet against the spinners. To ape him blindly will be counter-productive. The West Indies have made up their minds not allow Ojha and Ashwin to settle down; just how they plan to do so will make for fascinating viewing.
Armed with the conviction that spin is the way forward on this Eden surface that threatens to discourage strokeplay and make huge demands on patience and occupation of the crease, the West Indies might bring in off-spinner Shane Shillingford, only recently cleared after having been banned for a suspect action, for paceman Ravi Rampaul.
Shillingford is somewhat of an unknown commodity so far as the Indians are concerned, but that shouldn’t worry them too much, though the prudence of leaving out Rampaul can be questioned, especially given that it will short-change the West Indies’ strength, fast bowling.
Fidel Edwards will perforce have to be the battering ram in his 50th Test if the West Indies are to make quick and serious inroads into the Indian top-order. The little Barbadian bowled beautifully without much luck in the first innings at Kotla, though Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir positively relished his extra pace on an otherwise indifferent pitch. His battles against the punishing Sehwag and the assured Rahul Dravid will be watched with interest.
India should field an unchanged eleven – Ashwin joining the team late in the evening after his wedding earlier in the day – with Umesh Yadav getting another chance to re-establish his pace-bowling credentials and Yuvraj Singh the opportunity to seal the number six slot, at least for the time being. Indeed, the only change could be the end of India’s four-Test winless run against the Calypso Kings at the Eden.
Teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav,. Virat Kohli, Varun Aaron, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Sharma.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Adrian Barath, Kraigg Brathwaite, Kirk Edwards, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Carlton Baugh, Fidel Edwards, Shane Shillingford, Devendra Bishoo, Ravi Rampaul, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Denesh Ramdin.
Umpires: Rod Tucker and Bruce Oxenford (both Australia). Third umpire: S Ravi. Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).