India will attempt to extend the West Indies’ 21 years of hurt when they meet in Dominica on Wednesday in the first match of a two-Test series.
Rocked by the failure of the two-time winners to qualify for the World Cup in India in October-November this year, the Caribbean cricket community is unlikely to find solace in the shape of Kraigg Brathwaite’s Test side.
The West Indies last won a Test match against India back in 2002.
This brief series, which ends in Trinidad the following week in what will be the 100th Test between the two teams, marks the start of the next two-year World Test Championship cycle leading to the final in 2025.
Beaten by New Zealand in the inaugural final in 2021 and then outplayed by Australia in the 2023 decider just four weeks ago, Rohit Sharma’s team is likely to show no more than three changes from the side that lost the new Test cricket showpiece by 209 runs at The Oval.
With veteran batsman Cheteshwar Pujara dropped and pacer Mohammed Shami rested, there are now opportunities for either of the uncapped Yashasvi Jaiswal or Ruturaj Gaikwad to make the No 3 spot their own while it will be a toss-up between Jaydev Unadkat and Navdeep Saini to fill the breach in the fast bowling department.
Spinning all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin, unlucky to have been omitted from last month’s duel with Australia, should have the chance to add to his already impressive record against the West Indies.
In 11 Tests against these opponents he has taken 60 wickets and compiled four of his five Test centuries in averaging just over 50 with the bat.
India will also look for runs from recalled Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain who made 89 and 46 in the loss to Australia after a two-year absence.
“I’m still young and there’s a lot of cricket left in me,” the 35-year-old told Cricinfo.com. “In the past year or so, I’ve worked a lot on my fitness. There were a few points in my batting that I’ve worked on. I’m enjoying my cricket a lot.”
As disconsolate as they may be by the West Indies’ failure to advance to the World Cup, fans in Dominica are anticipating that one of their own, 24-year-old Alick Athanaze, will make his Test debut in the series opener in the middle-order in place of fellow left-hander Kyle Mayers.
While Mayers has been ruled out of contention due to niggling injuries, two other players who were part of the West Indies’ abysmal World Cup qualifying campaign in Zimbabwe – all-rounder Jason Holder and fast bowler Alzarri Joseph – are expected to shoulder much of the responsibility to quell the threat of a formidable India batting line-up.
Senior pacer Kemar Roach will still lead the attack, though, while the decision on whether or not to go with two specialist spinners in Jomel Warrican and the recalled Rahkeem Cornwall or opt for the raw pace but questionable fitness of Shannon Gabriel will be determined by the appearance of the pitch on Wednesday morning.
Windsor Park has generally offered little encouragement for fast bowlers but there is an element of the unknown this time around as the venue is hosting its first Test since Pakistan’s historic series-clinching triumph in 2017.
Notwithstanding their obvious underdog status and especially concerns about the ability of the batting line-up to cope with the Indian attack, West Indies batting legend Brian Lara – the performance mentor for the team – is hopeful that the home side, and particularly the younger, inexperienced players, can offer more than a glimmer of encouragement at time of widespread cricketing gloom in the region.
“It may take some time but obviously as an international cricketer if you are at this stage, it doesn’t matter what age you’re at, you’ve got to learn very, very quickly and I think they have that sort of attitude to learn and are willing to listen,” said Lara in summing up what he has seen so far of Athanaze and another uncapped batsman in the 13-man squad, 22-year-old Kirk McKenzie.
© Agence France-Presse