Had it not been for their history, an India-West Indies Test series would have stoked little interest now. Even then, a bulk of that curiosity stems from West Indies’ latest world triumphs in the shorter formats.
Any way you look at it, this rivalry might have attained great heights in the past but promises little now. Of course, this assumption is based on recent statistics, Test rankings and not to mention the fact that many would face great difficulty to even recognise half the current West Indies Test squad. But after a riveting week of cricket that witnessed a 42-year old man score a century that inspired a most unpredictable team to victory at Lord’s, a romantic would have reason to look beyond facts and numbers. That man, Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, even had the strength to do 10 push ups after the batting effort.
West Indies have to believe that is the best way going forward. Else, there is nothing left to play for. India, on the other hand, have everything to play for. This is the best ever opportunity to better their 1-0 result in the Caribbean in 2006 and 2011. For Virat Kohli, this series could be a personal project to extract the most favourable result against the team he had made his debut five years ago. He intends to set the tone for the series by attacking West Indies in the first Test beginning here on Thursday. And it helps that old warhorse Anil Kumble will be around if any glitch develops.
For West Indies, a lot will depend on how Jason Holder leads a team of unknowns in the absence of their best stars busy playing the Caribbean Premier League. This fast bowling attack comprising Carlos Brathwaite, Shannon Gabriel, Miguel Cummins and Holder could go down in history as the weakest ever put out by West Indies. That is not even stating the obvious. Even coach Phil Simmons admits to the generic problem of impatience that impedes his bowlers. “One of the words we are going to harp on a lot is how patient we are, because we tend to get bored of bowling at one place and doing well and not getting wickets, so we try something,” said Simmons on Tuesday.
Kohli is more sorted here. “Our top five batsmen plus wicket-keeper have to take responsibility and raise a big score so that we can bowl them out twice,” said Kohli on Wednesday. “That is our mindset in the last two seasons and we want to start the series with that same mindset that our bowling should be very strong that we can take 20 wickets. We want to start the series on a positive note even if we have a batsman short,” he said.
Holder wasn’t as assertive. “I think what motivates this young group is that everyone is trying to make a mark on international scene. It’s a very young team. I think it’s important for the youngsters to just come in, to make their mark and solidify their place in the team, and to make a name for themselves,” he said.
A significant factor for West Indies could be the siege mentality that has worked well for them in the past. Tony Greig had to pay dearly for his infamous ‘I intend to make them grovel’ statement just before West Indies started their tour of England in 1976. Shane Warne was the reason behind Marlon Samuels’s World Twenty20 final exploits while Mark Nicholas’s ‘short of brains’ remark had stirred the whole team. Holder said the ambition to create a legacy of their own keeps them going. Question is whether it will be as effective as a tipping point for this young team.