Twenty matches, one quadruple century, two triple centuries, the fastest Test hundred, the highest successful fourth-innings chase, and ten draws. That pretty much sums up the history of the pitch at the Antigua Recreation Ground, one where bowlers usually turn to pea-shooters. If the last Test played here is any indication - when eight batsmen ransacked hundreds - the bowlers might as well enjoy the sights and sounds of the country. Only batsmen will mourn the passing of the ARG as an international venue at the end of this match.
West Indies have lost just three Tests here. With 365 beaches dotting the country, visiting teams have probably been a bit distracted. India's last visit here produced 1142 runs, over just two innings. VVS Laxman, who made 130, will have fond memories of that game, as will Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid, who made half-centuries. It was also the third occasion when all 11 players bowled in an innings, as the game petered out to a most boring draw.
Two days back, there was a distinct tinge of green on the pitch. On the eve of the match, there was hardly any. Yet, India would be encouraged by the fact that spinners could come into play later in the game. Nicky Boje and Stuart MacGill have had a good time here, both in West Indian defeats. England A played a game here in February this year and managed a result, thanks to Gareth Batty's seven first-innings wickets. Rahul Dravid has already hinted that the team was veering towards picking two spinners.
Anil Kumble's last visit was highlighted by him bowling with his face bandaged; now he returns as the spearhead. Harbhajan Singh didn't play then; this time he may need to shoulder a large portion of the burden. India's bowling problems mainly revolve around Irfan Pathan, who, ironical as it may sound, may be fitted into the side for his batting. With the surface likely to be pancake-flat, and this being just the first Test, India might prefer to pick five bowlers, just to distribute the load and prevent tiring them out.
For West Indies, Corey Collymore passed a fitness test this morning and could partner Fidel Edwards with the new ball. There could be a toss up between Ian Bradshaw, who troubled the Indians in the one-day series, and Jerome Taylor, who comes with a bit of additional pace. The fourth bowler is likely to be Dave Mohammed, the left-arm chinaman. He's played just two Tests before, managed only three wickets, and it's tempting to think that Indian batsmen, oriental wrists and all, would make mincemeat of him. But one just needs to look at India's previous Test to realise the folly of such a line of thinking - they were felled by Shaun Udal, 37-year old three-Test veteran, in their own backyard.
West Indies 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Runako Morton, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Jerome Taylor, 9 Fidel Edwards, 10 Corey Collymore, 11 Dave Mohammed.
India 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Wasim Jaffer, 3 Rahul Dravid (capt), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Anil Kumble, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Munaf Patel.
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