Manjrekar: 'WI attack one of the weakest you'll see'
In the lead-up to this series, India's captain Virat Kohli arranged a meeting with Viv Richards to take his blessings, in the words of Richards. On the first day of the series, at a ground named after Richards, Kohli showed all the intent that was a hallmark of Richards. He picked five bowlers, going for specialists ahead of those who can bat; he went with Shikhar Dhawan, who brings the possibility of quicker runs than KL Rahul; and he chose to bat when the first session on this pitch was the only one expected to offer bowlers any assistance on the first three days.
Most importantly, with India in a spot of bother at 74 for 2 and struggling to score freely, Kohli batted with similar intent, albeit against a limited attack that must have been close to tiring out. He scored an unbeaten 143, his 12th Test century and his first against West Indies, to put India in a position to dominate, a goal they seemed to have set themselves at the start of the series. To make it better for Kohli, his selection of Dhawan paid off. Some considered Dhawan lucky to be playing this Test, he enjoyed some luck against testing bowling at the start of the innings, but he helped India keep a disciplined West Indies attack at bay with his first half-century in eight innings. The two added 105 in 27.1 overs; the previous 74 runs had taken 27.4 overs.
India would have expected to work hard for their runs on a slow pitch surrounded by a slow outfield in North Sound, but hands in front of helmets as protective action wouldn't have been on the agenda. In their first Test under new bowling coach Roddy Estwick, the West Indies attack, thin on numbers but displaying tenacity, tested the Indian top order in the first session. Shannon Gabriel, making a Test comeback after good returns in the ODI triangular series earlier this season, rattled the openers with his pace, accounting for M Vijay with a bouncer, but Dhawan was prepared to fight before capitalising on the second string, an older ball and falling intensity.
Play began along expected lines. As opposed to India's intent, West Indies took the safer route given their limited resources: they picked the extra batsman, debutant Roston Chase, and chose Jason Holder, who on many sheets was marked as an allrounder, to share the new ball. India were expected to look for runs, and relatively quick runs, while West Indies were expected to frustrate India. On the field, it was going to be a test of execution and endurance for West Indies.
The execution was near perfect before lunch. In his first spell of 4-2-6-1, Gabriel roughed up both Dhawan and Vijay. Dhawan had the worse of the exchanges, top-edging Holder before fending hopelessly four times in a row against Gabriel. Vijay edged the second bouncer he faced for Kraigg Brathwaite to juggle a catch at second slip. Holder - first spell of 5-2-10-0 - played his part in making Gabriel effective, and Carlos Brathwaite followed it up with a spell of six overs for six runs.
Dhawan might have had a problem against the short ball, but his discipline outside off and his will to make the bowlers get his wicket stood out. He refused to fall for the sucker delivery after the short ones, shelving his cover drive - playing only seven of them - and indulging only in the late cut off the part-timer Chase, who bowled economical overs of offspin in the first session. Unlike Cheteshwar Pujara, who got stuck and fell for 16 off 67 after a 60-run second-wicket partnership, Dhawan kept finding a way to score. While it was the late cut at the start - 14 runs off five attempts - he began to use his feet towards the end of the first session. He went into lunch with 29 off his last 26 balls, and would come back to get himself in before opening up again.
Pujara, though, fell immediately after lunch, getting a leading edge off a short legbreak from the returning Devendra Bishoo. The wicket changed the complexion of the day's play. With Kohli came the intent to score runs. The flat and slow pitch didn't call for a watertight technique, so Kohli could take a few liberties, but his attitude of looking to score first before falling back on other options exposed the limited West Indies attack.
Until then, West Indies had kept India quiet by bowling well outside off, but Kohli began driving, a shot that can be dangerous early in the innings in some conditions, but not in Antigua. There was no seam, no unfriendly bounce, and the ball was too old to swing. As if a sign of how the West Indies concentration was being tested, Kohli's first boundary came through a misfield, from Marlon Samuels.
Dhawan began to find more authority in his cuts. He upper-cut Gabriel for a six, swept Bishoo and stopped missing chances for singles. All through, Kohli kept driving imperiously. In the 34th over, the run rate reached three for the first time since the third over. The two kept picking ones and twos effortlessly. At one point Kohli pinched a single to Gabriel at mid-off, and told his partner, "He is very tired." Before you realised it, Kohli had followed Dhawan to a half-century, bringing it up off the 75th ball he faced. Bishoo, though, came back just before tea to trap Dhawan lbw on the sweep.
Kohli added 57 with an enterprising Ajinkya Rahane, who like Pujara, saw a short legbreak, shaped to pull but didn't manage to adjust as the ball stopped and bounced at him. In another sign of intent, India had R Ashwin batting at No. 6, ahead of Wriddhiman Saha. West Indies continued with their conservative approach, happy to slow India down, not taking the new ball and getting in some quiet overs before stumps as Kohli and Ashwin added an unbeaten 66 runs.
Kohli brought up what had looked like an inevitable century. Only once was there alarm during his innings. After a mini quiet period, he drove at a wide Brathwaite delivery. The edge flew wide of gully. On this pitch, such a drive to prevent the bowlers from bowling quiet overs wide outside off was a risk worth taking. As was playing five bowlers. Kohli was prepared to take both.