Only three members of West Indies' 13-man squad for the first Test against India have played more than 20 Test matches. Six of them have either played four Tests or fewer, and two are yet to make their debuts. West Indies captain Jason Holder, who has himself played only 13 Tests, said on the eve of the match though that he was confident in the abilities of the young group he was leading.
"Most of these guys have performed really well in the domestic competition," Holder said. "You've got young Roston Chase, who's in the squad for the first time. He averages around 40 in first-class cricket. You've got Shane Dowrich, who's been doing well over the last few seasons. Leon Johnson had a really good season. Those are just a few names who did well back in the first-class competitions. So I think all of them are really eager for an opportunity and I'm very very eager to go into the competition with them."
The players, Holder said, were hungry to make a name for themselves.
"I think what motivates this young group is that everyone is trying to make a mark on international scene. It's a very young team. Many of us are looking at finding our way in international cricket. I think it's important for the youngsters to just come in, to make their mark and solidify their place in the team, and to make a name for themselves. You know there is a rich legacy in West Indies cricket. Many of the young players are looking to make a legacy for themselves."
A lot of the inexperience in the West Indies team is concentrated in their bowling, following the loss of their long-time new-ball pair of Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach to retirement and non-selection respectively. Holder said he, as one of the four seamers in the squad, did not feel any specific pressure to step up and lead the bowling attack, but reiterated the need for all the quick bowlers to know their roles and perform them well.
"You know, if you look at our side, we've got Miguel Cummins who's come into the side, he's done really well for the last two seasons in domestic cricket. You've got [Shannon] Gabriel, who's been bowling really well, but has been struggling from injuries. He's fit and ready to go. Carlos Brathwaite and myself, you know, are the two seamers and we are just looking to do what we're asked to do.
"I think it's important that each one knows their role. You know Shannon's obviously a fast and aggressive bowler. Miguel similarly. Myself and Carlos, we're mainly the workhorses in the unit. You just have to know your role. I don't think there's pressure really. Once you know understand your role, you perform your role."
West Indies won the World T20 earlier this year, and were impressive in their recent ODI triangular series that also featured Australia and South Africa, beating both teams in the league stage and reaching the final. They have struggled to match that level of performance in Test cricket, with a number of their star players not featuring in the longest format. Holder said it was important for the team to keep improving steadily, while not expecting too much of them too soon.
"You know that's the ultimate aim [to be equally competitive in all three formats]. We've got a young side, and it's good to see we have some young faces. We're looking to build something. In the last series we played in Australia, we didn't start really well. Moving on into the Test series, we got significantly better. All I stress and address with the guys is to keep improving. You can't expect leaps and bounds, too much from a very young side. Once we get the steady progression in terms of improvement, I think we'll move forward."
The last time West Indies played in Antigua, in April 2015, they saved a Test match against England courtesy an unbeaten fourth-innings hundred from Holder. Batting remains the second string in Holder's bow, but in the days leading up to the Test against India, he has batted far more than he has bowled in the nets. Asked about this, he said he preferred to conserve himself for the long spells he often bowls in Test matches.
"I've played a lot of cricket this year already. As I said, it's about managing your body to get through a four-match Test series. I am a workhorse, so I don't particularly like to bowl that much leading into a Test match. I like to save my energy for the Test match because I know I'll be required to bowl quite a few overs. That's how my preparation goes in terms of my bowling.
"I try to bat a lot because I feel as though I need to pay a lot more attention there. That's more of my secondary part of my training. I try to work really hard to get my footwork going and my balance going which I feel is the key to my success."
Asked about his team's preparations to bowl against a batting line-up of India's quality on pitches that are expected to play on the slower side, Holder reiterated what players and coaches from both sides have already stressed: the need for patience.
"The name of Test cricket is discipline, when it comes to bowling," he said. "Where we fell down in the past is not being as disciplined as we would like. We've stressed discipline and being patient for longer periods. We come in and string together a good session but we tend to falter or fall off going deeper into the day. So far, what I've seen in the nets I'm really, really pleased. The bowlers look good and we need to transfer that into the game."