WI in better frame of mind than in 2011 - Sammy
"Saachin. Saachin!" Darren Sammy entered the press briefing by chanting the name of the most popular figure in India at the moment. The West Indies captain does not mind being a cheerleader at the Sachin Tendulkar farewell celebrations. However, that is where the courtesy to Tendulkar and India stops. Sammy is clear: West Indies want to correct the wrongs they committed during their 2-0 series defeat in 2011-12.
Although England got the better of India last year with a spirited effort, not many teams in the past decade, barring South Africa, have given India enough stress. However, Sammy's team will enter this series on the back of a positive stat: West Indies have won their last six Tests, starting July 2012.
And this time they have arrived with a much more experienced batting department including Chris Gayle, who will play a Test series in India for only the second time after his maiden tour in 2002. Gayle scored just one half-century on that trip, but in his last Test, against Zimbabwe, he scored 101.
Clearly, batting remains West Indies' strongest suit. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo have been their best two batsmen in the last two years in Asia while Marlon Samuels is not far behind. Kieran Powell has shown he has the wherewithal to stand strong against the new ball while Sammy himself can play a useful cameo lower down the order.
"We went to win six Tests since the India series. We have come back here much more experienced," Sammy said, summarising the progress West Indies had made since their last trip to India. "Our young batsmen would have gained more exposure and experience playing Test cricket. We are in a better frame of mind and we are playing much better."
According to Sammy, during their previous trip West Indies had managed to apply pressure on the Indian batting and proof of that was they had managed to bowl out the opposition nearly thrice during the three-Test tour. However, this time the challenge for West Indies would be much more considering neither of the two strike seamers - the Barbados pair of Kemar Roach and Tino Best - have had the experience of playing in India.
Both men have the aggression and pace to disturb the concentration of the best batsmen, but on slower and flatter surfaces, as would be the case in Kolkata and Mumbai, can they display the patience as well as the skills to worry the Indian batsmen?
"We have respect for India. When you look at their recent one-day series their batsmen have been in good nick. No one wicket is the prized wicket. Everybody in the top six minus M Vijay has been playing really good and has been in good form. It would be a tough battle for our bowlers. Last time we were bowling against Sehwag, Gambhir, Laxman, Dravid, Sachin and Dhoni. And we bowled them out three (sic. 2) times with four bowlers. We are going to come confident and look to execute our plans and look to get 20 important wickets," Sammy said.
Interestingly, both India and West Indies have not played Test cricket in the last seven months. India's last Test series was their 4-0 whitewash of Australia in March. Around the same time West Indies finished their home series win against Zimbabwe. The fact that India, who won the Champions Trophy in June, have been busy playing ODIs in the last month, was not lost upon Sammy.
He hoped that the Indian batsmen would still be in their ODI mode for his bowlers to force a mistake quickly. "It was a run-fest the last one-day series (against Australia). So hopefully their batsmen will come out playing a lot of shots and we will get some edges down at slip or some lbws or some bowled outs. So hopefully they will be in that same frame of mind and make more mistakes early in their innings," Sammy said.
As for the challenge to adapt themselves quickly to the longer format, Sammy remained confident about that on the basis of his team's performance in the drawn game against Uttar Pradesh last week. "We got what we wanted from that practice game. We last played Test cricket in March. So it was about getting used to the red ball again and spending time in the middle and the bowlers getting some miles in their legs. We did really well on a very, very flat wicket. This Test match will pose an even bigger challenge but it is one that we are ready for," Sammy said.
If West Indies win this series by a 1-0 margin, they will jump two places from No.6 to 4 in the ICC Test rankings. That is a good enough prize to gatecrash Tendulkar's party.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo