For the likes of Kohli’s West Indian counterpart Jason Holder and others, for whom featuring in the Test side is a matter of personal pride more than anything else, the innings defeat in the first Test was a rude wake-up call, and they have some serious catching up to do at the Sabina Park if they are to prove that they are no pushovers in the five-day format, in contrast to the common notion.
India had a near-flawless performance at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, posting a total in excess of 500 before dismantling the hosts for less than 250 in both their innings, with some superb fielding boosting their street credentials along the way. The Indian batting performance, which has maintained its tradition of formidability over the years, looked bright in the first Test with Kohli’s maiden double-century, Shikhar Dhawan’s fluent 84 as well as Ravichandran Ashwin’s ton.
There were a couple of worrying factors though. Murali Vijay was troubled by the steep bounce and swing by the likes of Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder early, and ended up injuring a finger while offering a catch to the slips, following which he did not take to the field again. The injury has ruled him out of the second Test and India will be looking to have a new opening partner along with Dhawan, which is all likelihood will be KL Rahul, who has impressed in the warm up games.
Which brings us to the Number three slot. Unfortunately for the Indian team, as well as for his chances of sealing a spot in the side, Cheteshwar Pujara was dismissed for an unimpressive 16, through a rash shot while looking to step the scoring rate up. With Rahul getting the opener’s position with Dhawan, due to Vijay’s injury, Pujara might just get one more Test to cement his position by getting some runs under his belt.
Ajinkya Rahane too was removed for 22 just when the runs were starting to flow for him. Even though he is considered a regular in the Indian middle-order, he will have to make up for the loss at Sabina Park.
Meanwhile, the bowling unit clicked superbly as a unit in the series opener, something that is not usually associated with the ‘Men in Blue’. Mohammed Shami made an emphatic return to international cricket for the first time since the 2015 World Cup with a four-wicket haul, and both him and Umesh Yadav were exceptional in utilising the movement and bounce as they shared eight wickets between them in the first innings.
The second innings was an all-Ashwin show, as he grabbed seven wickets in his second-best Test haul of all time. Though Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra did not walk away with too many wickets, they played their part in sticking to an attacking line for the batsmen to go for risky shots later in the innings.
While Kohli is expected to stick to his usual combination of five bowlers, the nature of Sabina Park wicket will determine the combination that Kohli will announce at the toss. As per latest reports, the pitch for the upcoming Test is likely to be a green one, which should come as a bit of a disappointing news for all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, whose left-arm spin might get overlooked by Ishant’s consistent pace.
As far as West Indies are concerned, it is the inexperience of the majority of the squad that has affected their performances. For a side that is without their main stars such as Daren Sammy, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, to name a few, a full-fledged Test series against a side that are six places ahead of them in the Test rankings was always going to be a tough affair. However, they can still put up a better fight, and one of the areas that they can start with is the bowling department. The hosts opted to go with only two frontline bowlers in the first Test, which made their chances of capturing 20 wickets against a batting line-up as talented as India’s virtually impossible.
Gabriel looked good in the first Test, especially in his early spell on Day one, and a little help from uncapped pacer in Miguel Cummins might actually help exert more pressure on the visitors in the upcoming game. However, the big change for West Indies when they announced their squad for the second Test is that of teenage pacer Alzarri Joseph, who impressed with his pace during the team’s successful run in the U-19 World Cup in February, and was the joint third-highest wicket-taker of that tournament.
Given the fact that the pitch had quite a bit of green cover on it, it won’t come as a surprise if the hosts decide to back Gabriel up with the services of either Joseph or Cummins, or both if need be, to increase their chances of containing the Indian batsmen. The one change that they might have to make is picking between Carlos Brathwaite and Roston Chase for the all-rounder’s spot in the side, with the former easily winning the battle in this one.
The batting department, on the other hand, has had a few noteworthy individual performances from the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels, but the fact that the top-order has not been able to get partnerships has affected their chances of getting to a good total. What’s more, their best batsman in the format in Darren Bravo, who had shined in the tour of Australia at the turn of the year, failed to click at Antigua. While the hosts are not likely to tinker with their batting order, the axe might fall on an individual or two should they collapse yet again.
India likely XI: KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami.
West Indies likely XI: Kraigg Brathwaite, Rajendra Chandrika, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich (wk), Jason Holder (c), Carlos Brathwaite, Miguel Cummins, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel.