October 27, 2013

Sidekicks' chance to steal the show

It might be Tendulkar's farewell party, but the hastily arranged two-Test series gives the boys from the Caribbean a chance to play with freedom and score points for themselves

Road trips haven't been the most pleasant experiences for West Indian teams over the past decade, especially those to the Indian subcontinent.

It was not always so. Up until the 2002-03 tour, West Indies had lost just one Test series in eight in India, stretching back to their first tour in 1948. But since then, the tourists have lost four of six matches and have not managed a win on Indian soil.

Seeing that their last 2-0 beating was just two years ago, the likelihood of a turnaround in results is not great. In fact, Darren Sammy takes his side to India very much as part of the sideshow entertainment for Sachin Tendulkar's retirement party. The tour was arrangedso that India's master batsman could finish his career at home and in his native Mumbai, and the focus will not be on the West Indians, or even so much on the Indian side as a whole, but on saying goodbye to India's hero and seeing whether Tendulkar can finish off his stellar career with a few more magnificent innings.

One of the most noteworthy things about the way his career has unfolded is how Tendulkar has managed the extreme level of expectation that has been attached to him, starting with his first Test back in Karachi in 1989. That city does not host Tests these days, but 24 years and 198 Tests later, the world still expects great things from the Little Master. So, in a very emotional and nostalgic way, in this upcoming series he will have to manage the spotlight like never before, for it will be on him all the time. That may be good news for West Indies.

They have nothing to lose on this tour. Pakistan's slip-up in Zimbabwe temporarily moved Sammy's side into a mid-table position they had not occupied for quite a spell. They have since dropped back to sixth* following Pakistan's drawn series with No.1 ranked South Africa.

The example of the Pakistanis' upstaging of the series favourites, and the realisation that even a drawn result in India could again see them on the move in the rankings, should add a greater sense of urgency to what the Windies do on this tour. Perhaps the one-week team-building camp in Florida, which the West Indies Cricket Board organised, rather than the usual preparation in the Caribbean, was an indication of how eager the authorities are for the team to give a good showing.

But the need to succeed will really be felt by the Indians. As the home team and one of the current powers in world cricket, defeat, or even drawing this rubber, will be seen as a major let-down at home, especially because of the Tendulkar factor. So since India are expected to win, anything but a series defeat will be a plus for West Indies on this tour. Playing with the freedom that such a feeling can prompt will not be a bad thing. It may just help the underdogs win more key moments in the Tests, something West Indies have consistently failed to do against the top four sides.

Throughout the ranks there will be opportunities to seize the moment. So mighty has been the struggle to achieve consistency long term, that there is no one department that is not open to question. But this tour could be especially important for a few, like Shane Shillingford.

There will be no new enemies confronting Sammy and his men, just old, frustrating ones that have little to do with the opposition on the field

Sunil Narine's success in limited-overs cricket has made him the focus of attention when it comes to West Indian bowlers. But his failure so far to trouble Test batsmen has left the door wide open for Shillingford to carve out a niche for himself. The tall offspinner, prolific against the Australians last year and in West Indies' sole series thus far in 2013, against Zimbabwe, has used his height and accuracy to great advantage, especially when conditions have assisted him. The fact that spin will also be India's forte should mean that Shillingford will get surfaces that will aid him. It will also be interesting to see what impact Saqlain Mushtaq's recent tutelage has had on Shillingford's game.

Shillingford is one of two specialist slow bowlers on this tour, the other being left-armer Veerasammy Permaul. England's offbreak-and-left-arm combination of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar won them their series in India last year. At the moment, the similarities between the two pairs lie only on paper. But here is a chance for the West Indian duo to make a name for themselves. Permaul will have the advantage of having just played against India A on Indian turf, and the confidence of being one of the leading bowlers in the drawn rubber.

Permaul was one of five from that tour who will also be on this one, the others being Kirk Edwards, Narsingh Deonarine, Kieran Powell and back-up wicketkeeper Chadwick Walton.

Edwards, who averaged just under 38 in the series in 2011, has since lost his place in the starting XI and will have to battle Deonarine for a middle-order spot. Deonarine's usefulness as an offspinner may give him the edge.

When Darren Bravo left India two years ago, the comparisons with a certain Brian Lara were growing, quite prematurely. He returns to the subcontinent not with his place in question, but rather his ability to add more substance to his style. Bravo's vulnerability against short bowling on the body is no secret, but another solid tour would be reassurance for West Indies' selectors and for coach Ottis Gibson.

It is way past time that Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Marlon Samuels over the last year or two, were seriously rivalled as the side's premier batsmen. Bravo and opener Powell can restate their credentials on this tour. Denesh Ramdin, with Walton shadowing him, has a similar challenge.

Really, in the series ahead there will be no new enemies confronting Sammy and his men, just old, frustrating ones that have little to do with the opposition on the field. Properly managing their own games will be more vital to a good series for the West Indians than what the opposition can throw at them. That is especially the case with this generation.

So the psychology gurus in Florida would have earned their keep if just enough freedom can reign in the West Indian camp so that even half of those demons can be slain at Sachin's party.

* October 27, 07:50 GMT: West Indies' Test ranking was corrected from fifth to sixth

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 30, 2013, 21:18 GMT

    Shillingford is the better man because he has played more tests 10 and more FC matches 82. To say Narine is ineffective is wrong though. Narine is inexperienced. 5 tests & 12 FC matches. Narine needs to get more FC experience if he wishes to play test cricket.

  • Johnathon on October 30, 2013, 4:39 GMT

    A lot of people were wondering why Narine has been overlooked and Shillingford has been given the green light..... Let me tell you, in the longer formats, Shillingford is the better man. Narine has already played Tests and has shown to be ineffective. Shillingford, however, is really good in the longer formats. India will be a real test for him, but the man is unstoppable at his home ground in Dominica. Some of the people he has gotten out: Amla (3 times), Watson, Warner, Clarke, Hussey, Kallis, Smith, and Ponting.... Not to mention, the guy has only played 10 Tests in unfavoring conditions and still has an average of 30.... If I'm not mistaken, I also believe that he bowls a good doosra

  • Anup on October 28, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    The focus in India this time around is too much on Sachin Tendulkar's farewell and not on how India will win these two tests in this series. West Indies A team had already toured India in September-October and had won the unofficial 3 match one-day series 2-1 and drew the unofficial three match test series 1-1. There is no reason why the senior West Indies team with Chris Gayle can't repeat the same feat. Even when the West Indies came to India in the winter of 2011 without Chris Gayle, they had taken a first innings lead in 2 of the 3 test matches. So India will have to play better than that to win against West Indies this winter!!!

  • Dummy4 on October 27, 2013, 17:32 GMT

    @ Navindra persad , I strongly doubt Gibson & the selectors will risk having only 5 batsmen in the 11 so more than likely Sammy will be 1 of the pacers with Tino Best being the other, so if he and Tino split 35 over - 15-20 then that will leave 55 overs for Permaul, Shillingford and the part timers assuming India bat throughout an entire day of the Tests

  • Dummy4 on October 27, 2013, 15:13 GMT

    Poor selection from WI selectors have already doomed WI. New quicks are sent to India to bowl on flat pitches. Two spinners will have to be selected to bowl majority of overs. None of WI quicks have stamina to bowl 20 overs esp in hot Indian conditions. Sammy is lazy so he will prefer to tire out the two quicks, who will eventually be injured because of work overload, while Sammy will bowl 15overs per day. Hopefully WI batsmen will perform so a draw will be possible because this team selected cannot bowl out the strong Indian line up. Of course Indian batsmen can throw their wickets away, but in terms of really being beaten by bowling not with this team. Sammy has to go, this series will prove it, he is good for odi and 20/20, but test cricket is about grinding it out.

  • sam on October 27, 2013, 12:26 GMT

    Now people might read my comment and say, well isn't Chanderpaul a fantastic player of spin? Well Chanders is a defensive batsman with an excellent test record who can survive against any world class spin. But is he going to dominate world class spinners? Maybe but very seldom because it is not his nature. He is a nudger and a pusher not a dominant, aggressive batsman who takes the attack to the opposition spinner. Any way, India has only one world class spinner in Ojha and a couple of decent ones in Ashwin and Jadeja.

  • sam on October 27, 2013, 10:03 GMT

    The reason why WI had a remarkable record in India was because from 1940s till about mid 1980s WI batsman were brilliant players of spin bowling. By 1980s there were no more brilliant spinners in WI and hence no other brilliant player of spinners except two notable exceptions (Lara and Hooper). If India plays to potential WI has no chance except bad weather to draw the series even if Tendulkar gets only binary scores.

  • Dummy4 on October 27, 2013, 5:29 GMT

    Darren Sammy really needs to have a 'big' series. He should score at least one hundred and a fifty, otherwise people will keep doubting his place in the side. He needs to focus on his batting , particularly in India where his pace and lack of movement will make him just an up and down bowler. Except for England and New Zealand , Sammy the bowler is not going to make a big difference anywhere else. He therefore needs to focus firmly on his batting and make the side purely as one. His bowling should just be a bonus.

  • Dummy4 on October 27, 2013, 4:56 GMT

    Sammys' batting average of <25 and a bowling average brushing on 40 in the last 3 years jus isnt good enough as an allrounder @ the highest level/ Ramdin is also averaging in the 20s. if we are to stay in the top 5 or go higher We will need to start picking our strongest 11 . Nothing else will do as Zimbabwe jus almost beat Pakistan 2 nil , the same team that white washed the former #1 team and they just drew with the current holders of the test cricket mace

  • Android on October 27, 2013, 4:53 GMT

    I'm afraid the indians are in for a rude shock in this series...what they are preparing for is a carnival and not a test series...don't be surprised even if WI win a test here.... and this last series thing is getting a bit too fussy here...Ind needs to focus on playing proper cricket rather than planning parties !

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