Teams set for battle of attrition
July 21-25, 2016
Start time 1000 local (1400 GMT)
Ajinkya Rahane has said it will be the key. R Ashwin has said this series will be all about it. West Indies coach Phil Simmons has said his side will harp on the word throughout the series. All signs so far point to a test of "patience" on what have become quintessential slow and low Caribbean pitches.
The physicality of winning a Test in the West Indies, no matter how weak the regional Test side might have become, cannot be overstated. The outfields are heavy, which will mean a lot of running. Over the last 10 years, only Zimbabwe and the UAE have produced runs at a slower clip.
This is an uneven contest with the best West Indies players not available through problems with the administration and other lucrative options available, the CPL in this case, which will clash with the Test series. As much as for the bowlers and the batsmen, this will be a test for the watching public of the Caribbean islands; many will be choosing between the modern stadiums sans the character of old hosting attritional Test cricket and the CPL matches full of life in the cooler and colourful evenings.
If West Indies can manage to make time a factor with good attritional Test cricket, it could be a fascinating series. Make the Indian bowlers earn every wicket, make their batsmen go uneasy in an attempt to give the bowlers enough time, absorb the punches and land one when India leave themselves open in trying too hard. If it works in Antigua, in Jamaica they could even try to blindside India with a green seamer. At a time when West Indies, the World T20 champions, are on the mend in ODIs and have their own T20 party going on, the Test side will need to tell their fans why they should give them their patience.
On the other end will be a side looking to break away from its limited ambition of the past. India have claimed they don't want to win series 1-0 anymore. They want to win every Test. Their captain has said he won't entertain tired bowlers in the final sessions of long days. Their new coach is an epitome of relentlessness. They won't be shy of sacrificing a batsman for an allrounder or a bowler in order to claim 20 wickets. From their two warm-up games in St Kitts, they have realised they will have to stretch every sinew to take 20 wickets: batsmen might have to score quicker, and bowlers will have to peg away for long hours.
West Indies DLLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Man of World T20 final. Averages 44.69 in ODIs since 2013. Yet
"I'm sure I'll have to be as boring as possible in terms of trying to plug away all day long." R Ashwin is not used to being boring. He has already bagged five Man-of-the-series awards in Tests, the joint most by an Indian. He takes a wicket every 52 balls - 46 at home, where he has been at his most effective. He takes a five-for every other Test. If West Indies do manage to hold India off, Ashwin will have to show he can be boring and persistent and, every once in a while, magical.
West Indies will have a new opener, a new wicketkeeper, a new pace attack and a new spinner from the last time they played a Test. Five men from their last Test XI are not even in this 13-man squad. Expect a debut for Miguel Cummins, Rajendra Chandrika to open alongside Kraigg Brathwaite, and Devendra Bishoo and Shannon Gabriel to make comebacks.
West Indies (probable) 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Rajendra Chandrika, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Jermaine Blackwood/ Leon Johnson/Roston Chase, 6 Carlos Brathwaite, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt.), 9 Shanon Gabriel, 10 Miguel Cummins, 11 Devendra Bishoo
India go in with a more settled side; seven months since they last played a Test in a different continent. Nobody will bat an eyelid if they retain the XI. Kohli admitted it was tough to choose between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, although he hinted Dhawan might retain his place. With the pitch expected to be flat, India are likely to continue with five bowlers, but the decision will be whether that fifth bowler should be a spinner, a pure seamer or an allrounder. Kohli has been known to prefer Stuart Binny in the role outside India. Mohammed Shami, who has taken the new ball on each of the three occasions that India have bowled in the warm-ups, should walk right back into the XI after injury kept him out for most of 2015.
India(probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 M Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja/Stuart Binny, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Amit Mishra, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Mohammed Shami
Pitch and conditions
There was some grass on the surface, but it seemed dry underneath on the eve of the match. Kohli felt that the grass was only to hold the pitch together, and it would behave like an Indian track. The ball might not bounce much, with conditions favouring the batsmen initially.
There have been brief, sharp showers on the days leading up to the Test, and more rain is forecast for days three and four. It's hurricane season all over the Caribbean, but Antigua is usually one of the drier islands.
Stats and trivia
- India have played 27 limited-overs internationals since their last Test, in December last year. West Indies last played a Test in the first week of 2016, but have played only 13 other international matches since then.
- R Ashwin has 16 five-wicket hauls in his first 32 Tests, level with Clarrie Grimmett among spinners at the end of their 32nd Test.
- The five bowlers in the West Indies squad have a combined experience of 111 wickets. R Ashwin and Ishant Sharma have taken more by themselves.
- The Indian squad has scored 40 Test hundreds to West Indies' 20.
"I'm really happy to be back here. The atmosphere is really good, people like cricket, they support it. I'm really excited to play a Test match here after so long. So is everyone else in the team."
Virat Kohli on returning to West Indies for the Test series
"It's the first time I'm involved in a series playing four Tests. I think the name of the game is recovery in between Test matches. There's not much time either. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be tough for every member of the squad."
West Indies captain Jason Holder on the importance of rest and recovery in a four-match Test series
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo