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War cry before the battle

Be it young local players, groundsmen or hangers on, they all flash a wicked smile and assert that the West Indies fast bowlers will have the final say on a lively Sabina Park pitch in the first Test against India starting on Monday. N Ananthanarayanan reports.

cricket Updated: Jun 20, 2011 00:28 IST
N Ananthanarayanan

Be it young local players, groundsmen or hangers on, they all flash a wicked smile and assert that the West Indies fast bowlers will have the final say on a lively Sabina Park pitch in the first Test against India starting on Monday.

Perhaps, for a tour seen by many as an unavoidable stopover before the real deal starts against England next month, the contest between India's young batting talent and the West Indies pacers could turn out to be the best way to infuse life into the series.

India skipper MS Dhoni has not lost a series since he took over Test captaincy in late 2008, but despite the woes of the home side that has been accentuated by the Chris Gayle saga, there is enough talent in the West Indies line-up to catch the visitors on the wrong foot.

Already, a depleted side due to the batting and bowling absentees, India will also wait on the fitness of opener Murali Vijay --- who suffered a knock on his hand while batting in the nets --- and seamer Munaf Patel, who looks doubtful of playing because of an elbow injury.

Munaf doubtfut
Unless Patel miraculously recovers to play, India's pace attack will largely depend on Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar, who will then make his Test debut after being picked as an injury replacement. The choice has been narrowed, as Abhimanyu Mithun, the other late inclusion after Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth pulled out, will land only on Monday.

It will be the start of seven Tests in a row as India play four in England. “It's very important to start on a right note. But we need to concentrate on the basics,” said Dhoni.

India look inclined to give Virat Kohli as well as left-handed opener Abhinav Mukund their Test debuts. That would mark the start of a transition phase in Indian cricket, which has been dominated in the past two decades by Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

Chance for youth
Dhoni saw the series as a wonderful opportunity for youngsters. “It's a very good exposure, and will definitely help the youngsters,” he said . India's hopes of making a strong start at Sabina Park, where they achieved a series-clinching win in 2006, could boil down to the batting leadership of Dravid and Laxman against the pace duo of Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul.

Laxman, like Dravid, last played for India in the drawn South Africa series six months ago. But he looked in fine nick as he went about his improvised batting routine in the nets.

India are expected to pick the younger batsman Suresh Raina ahead of the experienced S Badrinath although both middle-order batsmen failed in the one-day series.