India’s overbearing presence in the West Indies may underline its superior strength, but the Test series also reflects the sad truth of a team in terminal decline.
That the West Indies were never going to be a challenge was expected even before the four-Test series was to begin, even though their recent limited-overs performance had raised hopes of a revival. The domineering, aggressive T-20 World Cup champions play Test cricket as if it is a burden they need to bear for the sake of filling in the numbers.
From an Indian perspective there may be much to rejoice so far, be it in batting or bowling, but viewed objectively, the one-sidedness of the contest leaves Test cricket in tatters. Anil Kumble’s first assignment as the coach of the Indian team may not have come at a better time, as the West Indies look no better than a club side that is neither competitive nor talented. What is worse, they don’t seem to be even interested in putting up a fight, letting the Indians dominate from the word go.
In conditions surprisingly tailor-made for the Indian spinners, Ashwin has bowled like the wizard he is at home, luring batsmen into indiscretions with his teasing lengths and prodigious turns. The carom ball, that he has used sparingly in home conditions, is back and so is the use of crease angles that lends great variety to his bowling. The Indians have, by picking up five specialist bowlers and sending Ashwin to bat at number 6 in the first Test, made a positive statement of intent, conveying to the player that they trust his batting as much as his bowling. Ashwin has responded with a century, though it will be interesting to see whether India will show the same courage in team selection while facing tougher opposition.
Virat Kohli’s insatiable hunger for runs, regardless of which format he plays in, has been on display once again while K. Rahul in his brief career so far continues to show maturity far beyond his experience and age.
The only disappointment has been Cheteshwar Pujara’s lack of focus and intensity which is resulting in his being short of runs. There are already murmurs that he should be replaced. I think this is an unfair call, as Pujara is the man who has responded to a difficult challenge better than many in this Indian team and needs to be backed rather than being shunned.
It would be a surprise if India do not complete a 4-0 whitewash of the West Indies, a result it has not achieved away from home. This is as much a reflection on the strength of the Indian team as it is on the drift of a once great team into the oblivion of Test cricket.
The more abiding image of the series so far has been of thirteen men in motion, surrounded by vast swathes of vacant, empty spaces. What is a sporting contest worth, if no one turns up at the ground to watch the action. Test cricket in some parts of the world is not just dying, it seems to be dead already.