India start World Test Championship against improved West Indies

23Aug 2019
The Guardian
India start World Test Championship against improved West Indies

IN 2016, India came to the West Indies and won a four-match Test series 2-0.

Had rain not washed away an entire day's play in Jamaica, and all but 22 overs in Trinidad, they might very well have won 4-0.

Despite the one-sidedness of the result, there were signs that West Indies was putting together a new crop of bankable players.

The lower-middle-order trio of Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder came together to deny India a win at Sabina Park, and in the next Test in St Lucia, a pace-oriented bowling attack containing a new face in Alzarri Joseph reduced India to 126 for 5 on day one.

Some of the players who made their debuts or first major impressions in that series have gone on to become mainstays, and others, new and old, have joined them to form what is now a fairly settled Test line-up.

The results have followed; since that series, West Indies have won six out of 11 Tests at home - most recently beating England 2-1 - and have also picked up away wins against Pakistan and England.

When India begin the Test leg of their West Indies tour on Thursday, they'll know they're facing a better team than the one they beat in 2016 - particularly in the Caribbean, where their fast bowlers are backed up by the Dukes ball and seaming tracks with steep or inconsistent bounce.

Where Tests in the West Indies not too long ago were attritional contests on slow pitches, they are now short, bruising duels featuring regular collapses.

But if this template has brought West Indies Test wins at home in the last three years, it's also brought them losses - to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England.

India - who have just emerged from a grueling run of away tours that culminated in a first-ever Test series win in Australia - are a better team than any of those three.

When England toured the West Indies earlier this year, for instance, they had three clear weaknesses - top-order batting, spin bowling, and - until Mark Wood came in for the third and final Test - genuinely quick bowling. India are more or less covered in all those areas, and in pretty much every other area.

Where India have rested key players on previous tours of the West Indies - 2011, most notably - they've brought a full-strength squad this time. This, after all, is their first appearance in the World Test Championship.

This, therefore, will be West Indies' biggest test in a while. Their batsmen and bowlers will be called on to maintain their discipline and intensity for longer periods, and solve puzzles that other teams haven't posed them. We know West Indies are a better team than they were in 2016; this series will show us how good they are.

West Indies' fast bowlers have enjoyed themselves at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium over the last couple of years, Kemar Roach in particular.

He picked up five wickets when West Indies blasted out Bangladesh for 43 here in 2018, and four in each innings when they dismissed England for 187 and 132 earlier this year.

On the eve of the India Test, the pitch had a scattering of grassy patches on the good-length areas as well as a few damp-looking spots.

Jason Holder called it a "bowl-first wicket". Exactly how much help there is for the quicks remains to be seen, given that the pitch received a demerit point and a "below average" rating after the England Test. The weather in Antigua is expected to be cloudy, with showers forecast on day three. AGENCIES



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