Winning Bizness Sports Desk
On July 12, India takes on the West Indies in a two-Test match series followed by three one-day internationals and five T-20s. It is very important for India to do well in this series as it not only launches India’s new cricket season but it is also India’s first engagement in the 2023-25 World Test Championship (WTC) cycle.
A good win in this series will kick-off India’s engagements in this cycle on a positive note. India has some tough away-series’ in this cycle, and hence India should aim to obtain maximum points from this West Indies tour.
On paper, India appears the stronger team and despite its WTC loss to Australia in June this year, its morale is still high. West Indies, on the other hand, has failed to qualify for this year’s 50-overs World Cup and its morale, consequently, is at rock bottom. India must, therefore, be salivating at the prospect of taking on the West Indies at this juncture and eyeing a 2-0 win in the Test series.
Incidentally, this is the first time that the West Indies has failed to qualify for the 50-overs World Cup tournament.
India is lucky in the sense that it is beginning its WTC cycle against a not-so-strong West Indies—this should help India get a head-start in this WTC cycle before it meets stronger opposition later on. This series is therefore of tremendous importance to India and it is imperative that India secures maximum points by winning both the Test matches.
This is certainly not beyond India as it is undoubtedly the stronger side player-for-player. A perusal of the two teams reveals that India has both a strong batting line-up as well as superior bowling firepower.
This is not to say that the series will be a walk over but all things being normal, India should be able to assert its superiority over the West Indies in the Test series.
India has selected most of its stalwarts for this tour — Cheteshwar Pujara being the only exception. He is perhaps unlucky to miss out given his tremendous performances for the country in the past. Can he be judged just on the basis of his performance in the WTC final against Australia when other Indian batters too failed? Nobody knows what the selectors are contemplating for the future—maybe he will be recalled later in the year.
India is lucky in the sense that it is beginning its WTC cycle against a not-so-strong West Indies—this should help India get a head-start in this WTC cycle before it meets stronger opposition later on.
Fast bowler Mohammed Shami is another veteran who does not find himself on the tour but in his case, it is more a decision to rest him for the Asia Cup and World Cup that follows it rather than a `dropping’ from the team. Umesh Yadav is injured according to reports and hence, he too is not in the touring party.
Veterans such as Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin have been selected and all four have experience of West Indian conditions. Ajinkya Rahane makes a comeback courtesy some big scores in this year’s IPL for his team—the champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK)—followed by heart warming knocks in both the innings of the WTC final against Australia in early-June.
Rahane scored 89 and 46, India’s highest and second-highest in the first and second innings respectively.
Shubman Gill should be an automatic choice in the playing eleven while it will be a toss-up between Ishan Kishan and K S Bharat for the wicket-keeper’s slot. One among the two young batters—Ruturaj Gaikwad and Yashaswi Jaiswal—could also be in with a chance for a debut.
India is likely to go in with two spinners—Ashwin and Jadeja. They have Axar Patel, another off-spinner who is also a reasonably good bat but it is difficult to see him in the playing eleven unless there is an overtly spin-friendly pitch on offer.
India’s speed bowling will be led by Mohammed Siraj in the absence of both Shami and Umesh Yadav. Another veteran Bhuvneshwar Kumar was not considered by the selectors and so Siraj automatically becomes the leader of India’s fast bowling pack in this series.
This Indian team is a good balance of youngsters and experienced players, especially in batting and spin bowling while its fast bowlers, though not as experienced, should still be able to hold their own against the West Indies.
He will be supported by Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Jaydev Unadkat and Mukesh Kumar. Compared to India’s batting and spin bowling, its fast bowling is the least experienced and this could perhaps turn out to be its Achilles heel on this tour.
Siraj is the most experienced with 19 Tests and Thakur comes in next with just nine Tests. Unadkat and Navdeep Saini have both played two Tests each making a grand total of four Tests between themselves. Mukesh Kumar isa newcomer who holds an immense potential but it remains to be seen if he debuts in this Test series.
This is in sharp contrast to India’s spinners where between Ashwin and Jadeja, there is a combined experience of 157 Tests with Ashwin himself a veteran of 92 Tests. Axar Patel has played 12 Tests which is three more than Thakur (9 Tests) who comes in second amongst the fast bowlers.
Amongst batters, Kohli has played 109 Tests, Rahane 83 Tests and Rohit Sharma 50 Tests. Pujara who has been dropped is a veteran of 103 Tests. Shubman Gill himself has played 16 Tests, just three less than Siraj, the most experienced fast bowler in this team.
The Indians have a good balance of youngsters and experienced players, especially in batting and spin bowling while its fast bowlers, though not as experienced at the international level, have played enough first-class matches to be able to hold their own against the West Indies whose fortunes in the last few years have been on the downslide.
For the West Indies to put India under pressure, its fast bowlers should prove penetrative and get early break-throughs. If the Indians see off the West Indian pacers, then there is every likelihood of the Indian batters posting a huge score and putting the West Indians under pressure.
The West Indies has named an 18-member squad for a Test camp before the India series. Captained by Kraigg Brathwaite, senior players such as Jason Holder, Kyle Mayers and Alzarri Joseph do not find a place in this camp—it remains to be seen if they join the camp later on or are included in the playing eleven directly.
The fast bowling, for long the West Indies’ mainstay appears very weak in the absence of Holder and Joseph. Their most experienced fast bowler is Kemar Roach with 261 wickets in 77 Test matches. He is a world-class bowler, amongst the best in the world today, but he needs support and this is where a lot depends upon Shannon Gabriel, the other experienced fast bowler in the West Indian ranks.
Gabriel has 164 wickets from 58 Test matches and West Indies will be depending upon the duo to give them the early break-throughs to put India under pressure. Jayden Seales is a very promising youngster—at just 21-years of age, he has played 10 Tests for 37 wickets. This series provides an opportunity for him to showcase his talent.
The Caribbean spin attack is very weak and should not in normal circumstances trouble India. Therefore, for the West Indies to put the Indian batters under pressure, its fast bowlers should prove penetrative and get early break-throughs.
If the Indians see off the West Indian pacers, then there is every likelihood of the Indian batters posting a huge score and putting the West Indians under pressure.
On the batting side, much will depend upon their captain Kraigg Brathwaite, Jarmaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner and Joshua da Silva. Brathwaite is a proven customer who has accumulated 5,349 runs from 85 Tests with 12 centuries and 28 half-centuries. Blackwood is a very dangerous batter but has not exhibited consistency.
The West Indies, however, have two very exciting and talented youngsters in Tagenarine Chanderpaul and Alick Athanaze—former Caribbean greats pin great hopes on the duo and this series provides them a great platform to showcase their wares and prove themselves at the highest level.
Player-to-player, the Indian team appears far stronger than the West Indies. In recent years, the Indians have performed consistently and successfully against the West Indies. On form too, the Indians appear to be in good nick and while in cricket, nothing is certain until the last ball of a match is bowled, India has the edge and should win the forthcoming Test series comfortably. This should be India’s aim as well, for a good beginning to the 2023-25 WTC cycle is very important to gain momentum going forward.