India in West Indies 2011 June 3, 2011

Future at stake in battle of the benches


"Life is jokey but it's bloody serious. You got to plan. West Indies didn't do it." Ralph, an old caretaker of an inn, drawls as he lights up a cigarette. It's 11 pm and the small neighbourhood in Port of Spain is quiet. The glow from his cigarette lights up his grizzly beard. "We were too arrogant when we were winning and didn't plan for the future. Talent is all dried up now and we are watching the ego fights between the board and the players. It's all downhill. It's good to see India planning for the future by bringing in the younger players."

It's a puzzling series in many ways. The weaker team is ignoring its stars and testing its bench strength. The stronger team is being forced to test its bench strength while its stars choose to rest, some in fatigue, some following injury. The agenda is still pretty simple and straightforward: It's India's series to lose. They are the new world champions and will have to win this ODI series. Never mind that they are missing a couple of big players - a champion team can't have any excuses.

West Indies ran out of excuses for their decline a long time ago and are now scraping the bottom of the barrel of hope. It's a grim scenario. The evidence screamed out when the flight from London descended on Barbados. It was a breathtaking visual - a sparkling sea framing the houses like a jewel - but the question that immediately came to mind was, how on earth did such a tiny island produce a battery of world-class players? Now that same smallness offered another scary thought. How on earth will they find world-class players from such a small area? Trinidad is a much bigger place but big, of course, is relative.

Sometimes a win can just prove to be a setback. Is West Indies' recent Test win over Pakistan a boon or a bane? Will it make the hardliners in the WICB turn more adamant in their vision for a future that doesn't involve the bigger stars like Chris Gayle? Or does that win offer concrete proof of their new vision? This series against India can help decide it.

It was a series against India in 1976 that turned the corner for West Indies in many ways. That bloodbath in Sabina Park when Clive Lloyd, hurt after India chased down 403 in the previous Test, unleashed his fast men against the hapless visitors is a landmark event in West Indian cricket history. That victory made Lloyd, and by extension West Indies, realise that pace was the way to go and his gang of fast men went on to unleash such joyous violence - that still stirs the heart of cricket fans - around the world. Fire was raging in Babylon and Lloyd wasn't fiddling. Nostalgia is fun but not when the present is bleak.

If West Indies are to do well in this series, they can't reproduce tracks that were on offer in the series against Pakistan. If India has a weakness, it's against pace and bounce and West Indies, despite having a legspinner as their strike bowler, need to exploit it - like they did so successfully in the World Twenty20 held in the Caribbean region. Will they go for it?

For India, the absence of the seniors is the best thing that could have happened. This squad is perfect to test the bench strength. It's also the perfect setting for the new India coach, Duncan Fletcher, to ease himself in. He has been ostensibly roped in to help India prepare for a future sans the big names. Now he doesn't have to wait for the end of India's tour of Australia early next year to prepare for that eventuality. This series gives him a taste of things to come.

In the Tests, India are going with a new set of openers and in the ODIs, they will also be infusing fresh blood into the middle order. If West Indies are able to produce tracks that aid bounce, this Indian team can be tested by the likes of Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Andre Russell. It still won't be easy, but at least it will give them a chance.

If the tracks are flat, this could well turn out to be like the 1971 series between the two teams, when a debutant named Sunil Gavaskar gorged on a second-string attack to pile up the runs and launch himself into a calypso. This Indian team might not have anyone in the calibre of a Gavaskar but it's a team filled with ambitious young men, desperately seeking success and fighting for the few available spots when the bigger stars return for sterner tests. It's almost a fight for survival for many. Life is jokey but it's bloody serious.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Balaji on June 5, 2011, 0:25 GMT

    Well this Indian team has a different look from the recent past but frankly I feel it is a good thing to experiment, because in a couple of years this team has to be rebuilt when the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Zaheer decide to move on. Also Dhoni has been taking an enormous workload and deserves a break. For those who knock the IPL, remember that it is a BCCI tournament and hence the players are obligated to play Forget the money part. Personally I don't like the IPL, but it is here to stay. The club vs country is a new debate in cricket. Let us see how it evolves.

  • Sangram Singh on June 4, 2011, 22:26 GMT

    For ODI, I will suggest three changes in the Indian side - (1) Replace Munaf Patel with Ishant Sharma, to bring in some genuine pace. The WI skipper has ordered bouncy pitches, hence Ishant's raw pace will be more helpful than Munaf's predictable medium pace. (2) Replace Ashwin with Amit Mishra. Ashwin was expensive today. Mishra is very economical and turns the ball more. (3) Replace Dhawan with Tiwari. Tiwari should play at number 6 and Rohit should open the batting with Parthiv Patel.

  • Ashok on June 4, 2011, 16:17 GMT

    What about a west Indies Line up like below.. 1) Chris Gayle 2) Lendl simmons 3) Darren Bravo 4) Marlon samuels 5) Dwayne bravo 6) Keiron Pollard 7) Darren Sammy 8) Kemar Roach 9) Jerome taylor 10) Ravi Rampaul 11) Devender Bishoo 12) Andre Russel 13) Fidel edwards...Being an India fan and general cricket lover I can think of a sensible and best line-up for WI. Why can the authorities think of it.. This back up India team on its own is too strong for this stupid WI team selected by their board.. We are looking for good competitive cricket and not putting together a team for the sake of it especially when they are in revival mode.. and trying to build a team for future.. India can afford it because of the vast amount of talent pool they have.. every one can be given a chance..If this ego clash continues the WI cricket will lose more atheletes to the NBA.. ICC needs to instill some control and sense in to WI board to help cricket lovers like us.. btw good luck India for the tour..

  • Roland on June 4, 2011, 11:30 GMT

    look like no cricket today.

    In trinidad for the T20 and overcast conditions...getting worse.

  • Dummy4 on June 4, 2011, 11:02 GMT

    i think only challenge will come from west indian bowlers .

  • Arvind on June 4, 2011, 10:58 GMT

    A very nice article.... well written... but this article is not a 'Series Preview' as the link on the front page says

  • Vyom on June 4, 2011, 10:34 GMT

    Rohit, Kohli, Raina surely hold the key for this odi tour for India in terms of batting.. No doubt about that since all 3 are vastly experienced when it comes to the Indian batting department.. All in all, this strategy of bringing up new players to test the bench strength is a total waste!! They tried out the same strategy last year in the tour to zimbabwe, but at the end of it, they were back to their senior players and didn't even bother about those new selections in the tour!!

  • Gaurav on June 4, 2011, 8:32 GMT

    Yusuf Pathan would deliver his best performance this time!

  • Nizamdeen on June 3, 2011, 22:46 GMT

    R.Ashwin should be an automatic selection!!No question he is THE BEST spinner in India right now. He actually spins the ball!!!!!!

  • Gary on June 3, 2011, 20:43 GMT

    Yusuf Pathan should bat up the order and show his capability of playing fast bowlers....and also handling bouncers on carribean soil....There has been a lot of talks about him that he cannot play fast bowlers. This is the right time and right place to prove people wrong....

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