India have played some decent amount of matches in 2016, but are yet to feature in a single Test. More than half a year has gone by, and they will now get their first dose of cricket in whites when they play West Indies in a four-match Test series, with the opening game scheduled in Antigua on Thursday.
This series also marks the beginning of Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble partnership after the latter was appointed as India cricket team head coach in June. India should start the Test series as the favourites, with the quality cricket they have played, defeating Sri Lanka and South Africa in Aug-Sep. and Nov-Dec last year, respectively. Add to it India's strong team pitted against the inexperienced West Indies side, Kohli's men have an edge in the series.
Big names of West Indies cricket like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell are not present in the squad. As a result of which, the team comprises of some inexperienced players, which could go either way for the home side.
WICB have just picked a 13-member squad, with Marlon Samuels being the most experienced player. He, alongside Darren Bravo, Kraigg Brathwaite and Leon Johnson, will have to score tons of runs to help them compile good enough totals. The fast bowling department is the worry for West Indies, with Shanon Gabriel and Miguel Cummins the natural pacers, while skipper Jason Holder and Carlos Barthwaite are also there as seaming all-rounders in the squad. They will look for a special bowling effort from legspinner Devendra Bishoo, who has prepared himself for long spells.
Gone are the days when West Indies bowlers like Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh scared the batsmen.
India have picked a solid team for the series, making sure all their bases are covered. With batsmen like Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan at the top, and Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the middle order, they have plenty of runs in them, though Dhawan was poor against South Africa, failing to hit a single half-century.
Rohit Sharma will be fighting for a place in the batting lineup along with Pujara, while Dhawan and Rahul, who will be hard to overlook after scoring back-to-back 50 plus runs in their two warm-up matches, will battle for the opening slot alongside Vijay.
Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin are going to be key bowlers, but the bowling combination will be decided after looking at the pitches. However, India bowlers have showed that they are a top bowling unit, against South Africa and Sri Lanka, irrespective of the conditions. Ashwin will go into this series in confident mood as he had a good outing against the WICB President's XI, taking six wickets.
If there is any turn for the spinners, India bowlers like Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra will trouble the home team. Though India are favourites on paper to win the series, West Indies will have a thing or two to prove as they have been written off even before a single ball has been bowled. Can they pull off a stunning win in the Test series? If yes, there will be some heroes born in West Indies, and another reason for their players to dance to DJ Bravo's 'Champion' song.
Test squads: India: Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara, Lokesh Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Rohit Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma
West Indies: Jason Holder (C), Kraigg Brathwaite, Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Rajendra Chandrika, Miguel Cummins, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Leon Johnson, Marlon Samuels.