One eye on Windies, another on Australia.
That will be the theme for India in their short two-match Test series against Jason Holder’s men beginning with the first Test on October 4 in Rajkot. The aim will be to win the series, but the vision will be to prepare for the tour of Australia at the end of the year.
India have no option but to prioritise the Australia tour for it’s their last opportunity to walk the talk. They’ve claimed to be one of the best touring sides but results in recent times suggest otherwise. They squandered opportunities and lost in South Africa (1-2) and England (1-4); they can’t afford a repeat in Australia.
The first step towards the slightly long-term vision has already been taken, with reports suggesting India have asked for fast and bouncy pitches to simulate conditions they’ll encounter in Australia. That might or might not be possible, but India will have to try and find as many pointers as they can to the questions ahead of the tour down under.
They’ve not got much time to do that though – India play only two Tests against Windies and one warm-up match in Australia before heading to the first Test. It’s a mistake they made in South Africa and England too, and ended up paying heavily.
The biggest questions for India surround their batting. The bowlers were largely brilliant through the two previous overseas tours but the batsmen have consistently let them down. History suggests results at home are not indicators of ability overseas.
With all due respect the Windies, ranked No. 8 in Tests, are not expected to challenge the No. 1 Test side, especially at home. Thus, success in this series won’t necessarily mean much for the bigger vision.
But India can still answer a few crucial questions in the batting, beginning with the openers. With Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay falling out of favour with the selectors, Prithvi Shaw will open with KL Rahul with the other opener picked in the squad, Mayank Agarwal, asked to bide his time on the sidelines for a bit longer yet. Also, out of the XII named ahead of the Test, a break from usual practice, are Hanuma Vihari and Mohammad Siraj. Shardul Thakur is most likely to perform 12th man duties, unless the management pick three frontline fast bowling options in Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami & Thakur, leaving Kuldeep Yadav on the bench.Among the regulars in the line-up, there will be an eagerness to find form ahead of the Australian summer. Ajinkya Rahane, surprisingly, doesn’t have a great record at home and will want to fix that. Along with Cheteshwar Pujara, he has to step up and be the pillar of support that Kohli needs given the inexperience in the opening slots and lower order. Both Rahane and Pujara don’t feature in limited-overs cricket for India and thus have only these matches to prepare.
Windies’ first aim will be to continue the improvements they’ve made in the last two years. They have lost only one out of five Tests in 2018 and come into the series having defeated Bangladesh convincingly back home. Windies have also managed to defeat Pakistan and England in their own backyard in the last couple of years and if they can produce an encore, they’d have taken a massive step towards a revival.
Windies do have talented personnel, but the challenge will be to sustain high levels of performances in unison without a dip. Kraigg Brathwaite is an able opener. Shai Hope is Windies’ hope for the future. Roston Chase and Shane Dowrich, along with Jason Holder, denied India a win with some brilliant readguard batting in Jamaica two years back. Holder and Shannon Gabriel are pacers who are improving with every game. Devendra Bishoo has the experience of bowling in India. Can they all click in unison and produce one magical game?
It’s obviously tough; they’re battling not just India but also history as the last time Windies won a Test in India was in 1994-95. But it’s not impossible. They battled similar history when they defeated England in Leeds last year.
If that happens, it will only add to the growing pressure on the Indian team management beginning with coach Ravi Shastri and Kohli. That’s the last thing they’d want with Australia not too far away.
India (XII): Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw (debut), Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur.
Windies: Jason Holder(c), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Jahmar Hamilton, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Sherman Lewis, Keemo Paul, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican