Dhawan, Sarwan and an indifferent start to the series
In some ways Shikhar Dhawan and Ramnaresh Sarwan reflect India's and West Indies' start to this series. It's not meant as disrespect but Dhawan bats in the way a good batsman would do when he is out of form. There are occasional flashes of class - a sweet on-the-up punch through point and a caressed off drive - but he would soon relapse into a mini-struggle. The timing flees, the bat-face shuts and he starts to jab and stab. He rarely plays straight. And suddenly, the good shots reappear. Like Dhawan, India neither dominated nor struggled, but did just enough to overcome the opposition. There have been phases where they sparkle interspersed with periods where they slip into autopilot. It's early days yet, and their progress towards domination should be interesting to track.
In domestic cricket Dhawan is a very good player of the pull shot; at times, in the IPL, he was beaten for pace when attempting pulls against international bowlers. In Dhawan, you can see the difference between the first-class and the international level. In Dhawan, you can also see the ambition, and struggle, of a first-class batsman to try bridging that gap. It showed in his reaction when he reached his fifty. With more confidence, he can perhaps bridge the gap. Perhaps. India, though, certainly can do better. They aren't batting as well as they can. It's been said that India has a tendency to raise their game or go down according to the level of the opposition and this series promises more evidence of the same.
West Indies haven't quite got their act together yet. In both games so far, the batsmen have shown an alarming tendency to meander. When Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels were stitching together a sluggish partnership, the local radio crackled with anger and agony. The commentator couldn't hide his disappointment at their approach and said, "It looks as if they are playing for their lives, to stay in the team for the next game".
The pity is that Sarwan, who used to be decent against spin, gives the impression that he is batting from memory. The fluency isn't there. These days, Sarwan has handcuffed himself into almost solely playing square of the wicket. The off drives, on drives and the straight drives are conspicuous by their absence. He looks to cut or square-drive nearly every ball. When the line and the length don't suit those two options, he jabs and remains scoreless. The pressure increases.
Sarwan later said that he wasn't at his best yet. "I'm still not my fluent self, but I will go back to the nets tomorrow. I have a few things I have to work on and be ready for the match on Wednesday. From here on I will be looking to improve even more and do better for the team."
Samuels improved at the end of his knock and Sarwan couldn't quite do it but it's clear that this West Indies team is yet to get confident enough to test India, especially on these slow tracks. Through the Pakistan series and during the first four days of this tour, Sammy has been frank in his assessment of his batsmen's fumbling ways against spin. He has said the right things. That they need to rotate the strike, that they can't get bogged down, that they need to use their feet or sweep and that they are working on all these things with Desmond Haynes in the nets. It hasn't quite translated yet to the middle. The sooner it does, the better it would be for this series.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo