Series win and No. 1 ranking on India's radar
August 9-13, 2016
Start time 1000 local (1400 GMT)
During the rearguard in the second Test, when there was general momentary positivity around West Indies cricket, a feedback to ESPNcricinfo commentary put the plight of West Indies' long-form cricket in perspective. "Ten years ago, we used to talk about WI turning the corner when we won a Test match," Joel, the correspondent, said. "Now we're talking about it after winning a session."
West Indies drawing a Test that seemed long lost is worth celebrating, but the proof of this pudding lies in its sustainability. Given that most of their best talent are either not interested or not wanted in Test cricket, it will be a great result for Phil Simmons' and Jason Holder's team if they can consistently make teams work hard for wins. The bowlers will need the same discipline as they showed in Jamaica, the lower middle order will have to show the same application. And, yet, if their top order continues to contribute to the opposition's cause, they will keep needing help from the weather to save matches, lest we forget that four washed-out sessions played their due role in the draw.
Expect India to come back hard at West Indies. They have added motivation, thanks to Australia's poor series in Sri Lanka. Leading the series 1-0 after two Tests, if they win the two remaining matches, India will go to the top of the ICC Test rankings, irrespective of the results in other concurrent series. They will have an issue or two after the previous Test. Cheteshwar Pujara's struggle to convert slow starts leaves a little extra strain on the five-batsman unit. Internal questions will be asked of the five-bowler attack that couldn't close the game out. While it is understandable that the pitch hadn't broken up enough, that West Indies had finally put up a fight will leave a side striving to be the best in the world to ask more of itself.
West Indies DLDLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
After roaring back into the side with a match-winning century against Sri Lanka in Colombo last year, Cheteshwar Pujara has averaged 33 in eight innings, with just one half-century. Four of his six Tests since have come in pretty testing conditions in India, where the ball turned alarmingly pretty consistently. His strike rate of 41 compares poorly with his career strike of 48 because he accelerates once he is in. However, of late, he has been getting out before reaching that acceleration phase. In a side that is playing only five batsmen, though, you can imagine he might be under pressure to keep his place, especially when the team is focusing on scoring quickly enough to give its bowlers enough time to take 20 wickets.
Roston Chase debuted in the series with an experience of 29 first-class matches behind him, but he now already has the double of a hundred and a five-for in the same Test, and a Man-of-the-Match award next to his name. Starting off as a part-time bowler and a bit of a punt as a No. 6 batsman, Chase has outbowled West Indies' specialist spinner and has shown a more organised technique than any other specialist batsman in the side. India will come back with plans for him, so the test begins now.
With Rajendra Chandrika dropped from the squad, Jason Holder clarified on the eve of the match that Leon Johnson, who has been part of the squad since the first Test, will take his place, and not the newly included Shai Hope. Holder also said there was a "strong possibility" of including an extra seamer, since he felt St Lucia offered "the best cricket pitch in the Caribbean in terms of carry and assistance for the quicker bowlers". But he did not say whether the extra seamer would be an out-and-out quick in Alzarri Joseph or a seam-bowling allrounder in Carlos Brathwaite, and whether it would be one of the batsmen or the legspinner Devendra Bishoo to make way.
West Indies (probable): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Leon Johnson, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Roston Chase, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Carlos Brathwaite/Alzarri Joseph, 10 Miguel Cummins, 11 Shannon Gabriel
India captain Virat Kohli was quite cryptic about resolving the happy headache around the choice of openers, but he did suggest M Vijay was fit when he said the management would have to make the tough call after practice. While that leaves Pujara in the clear, the way Kohli spoke about the openers, one could take the risk and assume that KL Rahul is going to continue at the top. Kohli brought up the example of Mandeep Singh getting injured minutes before an IPL game, which created an opportunity for Rahul; he "hasn't looked back since then". Kohli said he had to have a chat with Mandeep to explain to him his misfortune. However, M Vijay, India's best opener since Virender Sehwag, is not quite a Mandeep Singh; he has a body of work behind him, so good luck explaining to him that he has to sit out. Mishra and Yadav's places should be debated, with Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar being possible replacements.
India (probable): 1 and 2 M Vijay/KLRahul/Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 R Ashwin, 7 Wriddhiman Saha, 8 Amit Mishra/Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Umesh Yadav/Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishant Sharma
Pitch and conditions
Both captains felt on the eve of the match that St Lucia will offer pace and carry for the quick bowlers through the five days. The pitch had an even covering of grass on Monday, though it did not look as green and alive as the surface in Kingston before the second Test. Scattered showers, though mild, have fallen over St Lucia in the days leading up to the Test. Rain is expected on the first four days of the match too.
Stats and trivia
- Take out Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and the last time West Indies went undefeated for two straight Tests was against New Zealand in July and August 2012
- If R Ashwin takes 16 wickets in the next two Tests and Ishant Sharma doesn't add to his 205 wickets in these two games, Ashwin will have equalled Ishant's tally in exactly half the number of Tests
- If Ashwin takes 11 wickets in St Lucia, he will be the solo fastest to 200 Test wickets; if he does so at Queen's Park Oval, he will join Clarrie Grimmett as the fastest
- There has been only one result in four Tests in St Lucia. Brain Lara holds the record for the highest individual score at this venue - 209 - and Kemar Roach has the best bowling figures - 5 for 42. A wicket has fallen every 37.13 runs in the four Tests here
"We should take positives from the last draw. If we had even 10-15% more assistance from that pitch on day five, given the same situation, we would have come out on top. We need to realise we played good cricket on the first four days, but West Indies showed resistance on the important days. But the lesson is that we shouldn't doubt our ability going forward."
"I would love for more people to watch cricket. Recently, you see a lot of people coming out to see the T20 and the one-day stuff. You get a bit more party-like atmosphere. For the last number of years, the crowds for Test cricket have been really, really down. I've been trying to scratch my brain to see ways I can suggest how to get more people in to the stands, but I think good performances is one way to get crowds coming back."
Jason Holder on sparse crowds at Test matches in the West Indies
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo