Troubled West Indies take on depleted India
Monday, June 20, Jamaica
Start time 1000 (1500 GMT, 2030 IST)
He played no part in the ODI series, but Chris Gayle couldn't be missed in the stands and was all anyone could talk about. He was there at the Queen's Park Oval, braids, shades and a cap that said 'captain', and at home at Sabina Park, those braids redesigned as an Afro. He lived it up in the crowd and, deliberately or not, reminded every one about the mess over his non-selection.
Who is to blame? Is there an end to this impasse, this battle of egos? There are no clear answers. That meeting between Gayle and the WICB held hope for many West Indies fans, but it resulted in more disillusionment amid reports of gloves almost coming off, literally. The details of the discussion were bared and the outcome was inconclusive. The upshot was that Gayle will still remain in the stands, and West Indies will still be deprived of their best player against the world's No.1 ranked Test team.
West Indies made another significant decision in leaving out Dwayne Bravo, who had sought, and was granted, rest after only two ODIs, following a six-game IPL stint. He hoped to return for the Test series after having time to "reflect, refocus" on his game. That break has now been extended. The return of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who will have another meeting with the WICB prior to the Test, and Adrian Barath to the top of the order are welcome developments. However, replicating what West Indies managed against Pakistan, after back-to-back wins in the ODI series, will be harder against a stronger, though depleted, Indian outfit.
India are without their formidable openers - Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir - as well as Sachin Tendulkar, but are strengthened by the return of their captain MS Dhoni and veterans Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. With several new players getting a chance to showcase their Test skills, the series is an opportunity to compete for spots on the tour of England, for which the resting and injured regulars are certain to return. The weakened bowling attack, though, is a worry on a pitch expected to favour movement and bounce, and not much turn. For India, the focus of the ODI series was on how their younger players would step up away from home and face the pressure of living up to expectations after the World Cup victory. The pressures will be similar in the Tests, though there are a few more seasoned, experienced hands to guide them.
Form guide (most recent first)
West Indies: LWDDD
Abhinav Mukund: He did not play the previous time he was picked in the Indian squad but will almost certainly make his debut in Kingston. Mukund, 21, has been a prolific run-scorer for Tamil Nadu in domestic cricket, and was deservedly rewarded for his consistency with a Test call-up. He was Tamil Nadu's second-highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy, scored a century in each innings for South Zone in the Duleep Trophy semi-final and is part of a successful opening partnership with M Vijay, who is also part of the Test squad. Mukund's temperament, ability to bat long and score big - he has a triple-ton to his name - and reputation as one of India's most promising young talents will be a source of both nerves and confidence in his first international game.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul: Ahead of his previous Test, Chanderpaul, in one of his most outspoken interviews, slammed the West Indies management for interfering with his batting, subjecting him to unreasonable questioning and even asking him to retire, which he refused to do. In the end, he played a crucial role in his team's second innings to help beat Pakistan in Guyana. His build-up to this Test has been relatively low key but he'll still have to meet with the management, which will "outline to Chanderpaul the WICB's expectations of him and his future participation in the West Indies team as a player." What that meeting will produce, we don't know, but he's been India's chief West Indian tormentor, averaging 71.86 in 18 Tests. Both he and the management will know that.
Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth aren't in the Caribbean because of injuries, Abhimanyu Mithun will only arrive on June 20 while Munaf Patel has an elbow problem that has put him in doubt for the first Test. If Munaf misses out, Ishant Sharma will open the bowling with Praveen Kumar, a Test debutant. Swinging the ball both ways is Praveen's strength, though his effectiveness with the older ball will be tested in the event he plays. Without Munaf, India will not have a third seamer, a scenario they would want to avoid on a pitch expected to have pace and bounce.
India have a batting concern as well. M Vijay hurt his left forefinger and went for an x-ray, the result of which is not yet known. If he can't play, Parthiv Patel could open with Mukund. Virat Kohli could be in line for a Test debut as well. Kohli, S Badrinath and Suresh Raina will be competing for two places in the XI.
India (possible): 1 Abhinav Mukund, 2 M Vijay/Parthiv Patel, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 and 6 Virat Kohli, S Badrinath, Suresh Raina, 5 VVS Laxman, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 9 Amit Mishra/Munaf Patel.
Barath replaced Kraigg Brathwaite in the squad and will open with Lendl Simmons. Chanderpaul's return - he missed the second Test against Pakistan due to injury - means Marlon Samuels, who scored a half-century in that second Test and played important knocks against India in the ODIs, may have to sit out.
West Indies (possible): 1 Adrian Barath, 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Brendan Nash, 7 Carlton Baugh (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Ravi Rampaul, 11 Devendra Bishoo.
Pitch and conditions
"Indians like slow pitch," said Charles Josephs, who's been the curator at Sabina Park since 1962. He's, therefore, made a hard one, as is custom in Kingston, favouring pace and bounce. He reckoned the ball would come on to the bat well after a point, but unlike the slow pitches in Trinidad and Antigua, this one wouldn't turn much or keep low.
Stats and trivia
- India have lost six and won one of the ten Tests they played at Sabina Park. In 2002 they were beaten in the series decider by 156 runs, a game featuring Laxman, Dravid and Harbhajan Singh. In 2006, Dravid won India the Test and series on a tough pitch with a half-century in each innings.
- This will be Dravid's 150th Test for India. He will become the second Indian after Tendulkar to reach that landmark, and the fifth to go past 150 overall.
- Harbhajan has bowled 557 balls to Chanderpaul in Tests and never dismissed him.
- For a comprehensive stats preview, please click here.
"They have bowlers who can bowl fast, and if they can bowl at the right areas they can cause problems to the batsmen. That's what Test cricket is all about, you have to negotiate good bowlers and balls, and as a batsman you need to push the bowlers to bowl into your zone."
MS Dhoni prepares for a career in commentary
"I am bowling far better, in more consistent areas and swinging a lot more than before. I am training a lot harder, gym a lot, strengthening my back, my legs, my muscles, my weak areas a lot."
Fidel Edwards says he's ready to go if selected in the XI
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo