India v West Indies, 1st Test, New Delhi, 4th day November 9, 2011

A victory at last, but far from a perfect one

India's selectors can congratulate themselves on new additions to the bowling attack succeeding but conceding a 95-run lead to modest opposition should sting the team

The Feroz Shah Kotla Test ended with a short burst of mirth and entertainment: Yuvraj Singh was bowled with one left to win, the West Indies fielders came in to stop the single, MS Dhoni inside-edged his first ball, Darren Sammy pantomimed the start of his run-up to the hoots of the crowd. VVS Laxman then whipped one to square leg and put an end to all the tomfoolery. After eight innings of misery in England, victory was to be shown full respect. In the last 15 months, Laxman has been involved in three 200-plus chases for India and was not about to mess with that track record.

The 0-4 loss in England must not be forgotten but the win at the Kotla comes accompanied by a sigh of relief. Control needed to be seized quickly in the three-Test series against West Indies so that the selectors can tinker and tailor before Australia. While Kotla, Eden Gardens and the Wankhede are as far removed from Australia as Oxford is from Ouagadougou, this is an ideal time for Indian try-outs against opposition that can stir but not quite shake.

In less than 24 hours, the selectors will meet to pick the team for the next two Tests and can indulge in some self-congratulations at how their choices for Delhi worked out. The most significant changes were made - as the bowlers will always grumble about - in the attack.

In their first Test after the England tour, India's bowling attack at the Kotla, barring Ishant Sharma, was completely remodelled from the line-up at the Oval. Making his return to the Indian team after a year out, Pragyan Ojha became the lead spinner and two new men were included. One of them, R Ashwin, ended up with nine wickets on debut, the Man-of-the-Match award and the biggest smile to take to his wedding day on the eve of the Kolkata Test.

The other, Umesh Yadav, held up manfully on a low, slow wicket. In his first showing, he bowled at full pace, hurrying the batsmen in short spells, before fading away slightly in his final spell. In the second innings, he came on after the spinners, and broke through with key wickets. Kirk Edwards' off stump went first as the batsman shouldered arms and opened the door for the West Indies' middle order to be taken apart by Ashwin.

West Indies are not the most formidable opposition for a debutant, and to their credit both Yadav and Ashwin did not treat their lesser batsmen like they were. It is their wagon wheels against Shivnarine Chanderpaul, though, that should give them clues about what life may be like against more-accomplished batsmen.

Captain MS Dhoni was pleased overall. "You weren't 100% sure what you would get from players who have not played this format like Ashwin and Umesh Yadav. With Ishant and Ojha, we knew they'd perform at this level." Ojha's first-innings performance has gone somewhat unnoticed due to Chanderpaul's century and India's first-innings collapse. But on a wicket that offered little help on the first day, he was able to extract some turn, get a bit of drift and keep asking questions of the batsmen. "Ojha has been in and out of the XI. It was good to see him bowl well in the first innings when the pitch was flat and it was not easy to bowl.

"Umesh did well and there was an improvement in the way he bowled in the second innings. Of course he bowls a fraction short but that will get better as he plays more and more Test matches. In the second innings, Ashwin did well. He did not get a lot out of the wicket but it was his variations that helped him. He was flighting the ball nicely and then he has the carrom ball and the topspinner."

Asked whether Ashwin's performance would make it difficult for Harbhajan Singh to return to the team for the Australia tour, Dhoni, who has backed Harbhajan against selectorial opposition, was deadpan. "Let us see because Ashwin has played one game, Ojha has done well. Let us see how it goes."

While describing the Test, Dhoni used his favourite adjective, a word he uses to tackle questions that are best left unanswered: "difficult." The Test, he said, "was not easy; there was nothing much for the bowlers in the pitch and there was nothing for the batsmen. The batsmen had to play a lot of deliveries to score their runs. The scorecard will say the match got over in four days but it was a difficult game."

India's batting gains from this Test will revolve around the sight of Virender Sehwag lashing the ball to all parts (his sudden dismissals will continue to be discussed even after he retires) and the runs accumulated by the experienced middle-order triad across both innings. There was, however, the disconcerting awareness that Dhoni at No.7 is followed by a tail so long, snow leopards would envy it.

Regardless of the final result, conceding a 95-run lead to West Indies at home should sting. "If we had got the first-innings lead I would have thought it was a perfect way to start the series," Dhoni said. "We lacked a few things when we batted first but there's nothing we can pinpoint about the performance. There was not much turn yet more than 20 wickets fell before the start of the third day, so the batsmen from both sides will feel they could have played better."

A darn sight better is what you'd expect from India.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • raj on November 12, 2011, 5:33 GMT

    Given Aust inexperienced bowling attack, I would not mind India going in with a batsman short in order to bolster their own attack - depending on the batsmen showing good form in the warm-up matches. How about this line-up for Aust tour: 1. Gambhir 2. Sehwag 3. Dravid 4. Tendulkar 5. Laxman 6. Dhoni 7. Ashwin 8. Bhajji 9. Zak 10. Ishant 11. PK/ UY/ VA? Given Ojha's recent success, it is hard to leave him out but I do feel that Ojha is better suited to Indian conditions. He can be tried in future tours. Ability of Ashwin and Bhajji with the bat partially makes up for the missing specialist #6 batsmen. This lineup would have the best chance of dismissing Aust twice - they will be hurting after the recent collapse in SA and they will be fighting hard in their own back yard!

  • raj on November 12, 2011, 5:12 GMT

    Dear Sharda, With all due respect, you sound like a bit of a depressant - need to start focussing on the positives a bit more. Very good come-back win by India and respect for the fighting qualities fo the WI. I think the Indian selectors are doing it right by giving many youngsters the opportunity to play alongside the greats - Yuvraj, Kohli, Raina, Pujara and even Bhadri have had a run...even if somewhat limited and unsuccessful ones. Their learnings would be immense...they now have to put their learnings into practice. I would also like to see Rehane & Rohit being given a run in tests and thus creating a healthy competition to secure the #6 batting slot. On the bowling side it is great to see India trying to develop in the 'pace' (not high-school pace) department! Looking ahead to the Australian tour, India may struggle with four specialist bowlers only - I would not mind seeing Bhajji, with his experience, back in the side along with Zak.

  • vikram on November 12, 2011, 2:48 GMT

    Yeah Sharda, a mild WI-team hosting series sandwiched between tough Eng and Aus series. But it would be difficult not to reciprocate our tour of WI which took place shortly before, right? After all, the modern bullring demands you play your opposition home and away and decide who's the true winner!

    The only way out to avoid this hosted WI series is to have avoided touring them earlier. And it be snobbish to have done that. right? :)

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2011, 15:37 GMT

    C'mon, India fans. We have to win at home, that is a must anyway. We have to learn to win, consistently, away from home, to get back to the top. Please lets not get fooled by performances against WI in India...

  • randolf on November 10, 2011, 15:09 GMT

    It's a pity Sachin did not get this elusive 100 in this match. I think the matter is hitting the urgency button for him now. He has to do it against the modest stuff that's now being presented by the WI. And, the Indian public is showing signs of impatience, calling for fresh blood - better investment for India cricket. They have already said that the selectors should keep Dravid only; but I don't know if they can do without Laxman - their perennial saviour. The smart guy Sachin is, I predict he would not tour Australia. Having just been embarassed by the English ruthless pace machine, I don't think he's going to embarass himself so quickly again, against a pace machine that would be just as ruthless; and, in Australia of all places. He knows that Australia is very hungry right now to become the world's No1 again; and they would be very devastating at home. hence, the little that he's capable of now would be preserved for for his usual feasts on the shortcomings of the minnowes.

  • Rohit on November 10, 2011, 13:36 GMT

    I asked this question on another post, but got no takers - hope to see some responses here. Between Sach, Rahul and Very Very Spl, in what irder do you think they should retire and why? who do you think should replace them?

  • natmastak on November 10, 2011, 12:32 GMT

    @ randyoz :instead of taking a dig at Sachin, will you please explain me the role of punter in current australiian test team.and rest assured Sachin wont retire after 100th ton coz he can still put a 20 someone to shame by his play.punter meanwhile will ffind it hard enough to find a place in trinidad and tobago test team if one exists.

  • Naresh on November 10, 2011, 9:05 GMT

    Talking about spinners - it is quite obvious that the faster spinners like KUMBLE, ASHWIN, AFRIDI, BHAJJI take wickets on the slower subcontinent pitches.On the faster pitches the reverse happens - slower spinners take wickets. The Indian team composition should take this in consideration when choosing spinners for games abroad. I feel someone like Jadeja and Ohja would do better outside India compared to say maybe Ashwin.

  • Orang on November 10, 2011, 7:44 GMT

    @RanilHerath, thanks for your comments, but better worry about Sri Lanka who are really struggling. Apart from Sanga, no one seems capable of staying at the crease, Mathews is not really Test class. As for the bowling, Herath is so mediocre. And this on the desert tracks, I feel for you guys in SA against Steyn & Co

  • Priyam on November 10, 2011, 7:06 GMT

    after 4-0 drubbing in England we all were expecting a win and not a "perfect win"...

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