A little over seven and a half months back, it was at the headquarters of cricket in the country that a billion prayers were answered in sensational fashion. A 28-year wait was ended emphatically through Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s gigantic six off Nuwan Kulasekara, crowning India World Cup champions for the first time since 1983.
The maddening quantum of cricket since has almost pushed that seminal moment to the deep recesses of the memory. The disaster in England, coming as rapidly as it did after the World Cup, was an unqualified dampener, the Indians only slowly embracing redemption with their intrepid brand of cricket on home turf in the last month and a bit.
Test cricket returns to the Wankhede after almost five and a half years. India’s last time here in March 2006, Rahul Dravid’s 100th, was soured completely by an ungainly collapse that made journeyman off-spinner Shaun Udal look unplayable as England conjured a series-levelling victory out of nowhere.
India will, therefore, take little for granted when they square off against the West Indies for the third and final Test, beginning on Tuesday.
Neither the fact that the series is already in the bag, nor that the West Indies don’t appear to have the resources required to win a Test here, will count for anything as India attempt a rare clean sweep against the masters of the cricket world in the ’80s and early ’90s.
It won’t be so much the passing of the baton as the coming together of generations when Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli turn up in the same Test eleven. All three of the precocious Kohli’s previous Tests came in the Caribbean earlier this year when Tendulkar was taking a break from the rigours of cricket. The 22-year-old from Delhi will relish the prospect of a first Test alongside Tendulkar, who will again be chasing a 100th international century, this time at the venue where he cut his teeth as a cricketer.
Kohli’s comeback is all but certain after the misfiring Yuvraj Singh was given the axe following Kolkata. For all his brilliance on the limited-overs stage, Kohli hasn’t found Test cricket easy to crack, as evidenced by 76 runs from six innings in the West Indies. Now, having spent time in the dressing room with the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman on a regular basis, the fast-learning Kohli ought to have picked up a clue or two.
Not for nothing is Tendulkar referred to as ‘Master’ by even some of the legends of Indian cricket. For 22 years and counting, the little man has carried Indian cricket on his ultra-broad shoulders, standing out for his unquestioned commitment and complete dedication to his chosen craft. He is a glorious example in the art of focus and preparation, and if Kohli has watched the Mumbaikar at work and learnt his lessons, Indian cricket will be better off considering that the long-serving trio of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman may not have too much more time left in the cauldron of international cricket.
Whether Tendulkar is feeling the pressure of not getting the monkey off the back is debatable, but every innings without a hundred increases the edginess outside of the team. There is an unshakeable conviction in this part of the world that the milestone will arrive in the city of his birth, but cricket has steadfastly mocked at fairytale endings.
The West Indies, seeking to bolster their pace attack on a bare Wankhede strip that promises more pace and bounce than the Kotla and the Eden, will fret over the fitness of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The left-hander limped around at Monday practice, still feeling the effects of a calf strain, but he is a gritty customer who will only miss the Test if he is convinced he can’t sustain himself for five days.
Dhoni too was conspicuous by his absence at training, laid low by mild fever and cold, but the news from the Indian camp is that the leader will be at the helm on the morrow, steering the ship with an iron hand that, thankfully, hasn’t extended to his work behind the stumps!
Teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Rohit Sharma, Rahul Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Adrian Barath, Kraigg Brathwaite, Kirk Edwards, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Carlton Baugh, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards, Devendra Bishoo, Kieran Powell, Shane Shillingford, Denesh Ramdin.
Umpires: Bruce Oxenford (Australia) and Tony Hill (New Zealand), Third umpire: Shahvir Tarapore. Match referee: David Boon (Australia).