India's Caribbean cruise has reached its last stop and they're back to where they began. After voyaging through the exotic suburban islands, cricket has returned to a metro where multi-storeyed structures block the horizon, not just the hills.
It was here that the visitors started their tour last month with a win in the first one-dayer, but it was also here that things started going wrong for them, from the second ODI. After losing that game by a run, they have not won anything.
Though the Indians have looked a lot better in the Tests primarily because of a resurgence in batting, they have nothing to show for this improvement. For all their good deeds, the scoreboard says it's 0-0 with one match to go.
There was widespread optimism in India before this series that Rahul Dravid's team would do what their predecessors couldn't in 35 years -- beat the West Indies at home. It was also expected they would script India's first success story outside the sub-continent since 1986, because the win in Zimbabwe last year was, at best, of academic interest.
With three Tests gone and drawn, there is just one more chance to realise these dreams. True, they were denied victory by weather in the second Test, but the scorebook won't show that. And irrespective of the things it doesn't show, the scorebook matters.
Greg Chappell isn't an ardent follower of this view. “It will be good to go home with something because we have played well, but winning or losing is not as important as playing good cricket. There have been positives from this trip.”
Elaborating, he mentioned that almost all the batsmen have got runs, and also sounded happy with the way the bowlers have performed. “We came here with three young fast bowlers. They have learnt some important lessons and done well under the circumstances.”
When someone like Chappell says the bowlers have been encouraging, he has to be taken seriously. But despite those bright signs, all the brainstorming he must do ahead of the final Test will be over the combination of bowlers. And this is not a question of who has done well, but who can do well.
Apart from the issue of four or five -- which remains pertinent -- he has to decide who and who not.
As of now, Anil Kumble, Munaf Patel and probably Harbhajan Singh look automatic choices, but there is some serious thinking to do about the other slot if not another. Though the groundsman at Sabina Park predicted the pitch would have carry for the quicker bowlers, it will be difficult to leave out Harbhajan. In that case, it's a battle between Irfan Pathan, Vikram Rajvir Singh and S Sreesanth, who suffered a minor blow near the ear while batting at the nets.
Purely on the basis of what has been seen in this series, Singh appears to a be a better choice, but Pathan will surely make the XI to lend solidity to the lower order if the team goes in with five bowlers and drops a batsman.
Having said that, this is speculation because the men who matter are unwilling to give any hint of what the combination might be. “We will decide after getting a good idea of the conditions and that will be on the morning of the match,” said Chappell.
Amid uncertainty over these things, what's sure is that there won't be any extra advantage for the Indian spinners from the pitch. Despite Brian Lara complaining about the selection of bowlers, the West Indies have indeed taken some precaution against what they are most afraid of. For a team that has lost four of their last seven home Test series after beating India in 2002, trying to diminish the opponent's strength is an obvious ploy. The Indians are surely aware of this and how they choose the right combination perhaps holds the key to the outcome of the series.