It is not easy to beat hosts howsoever strong a visiting side is. India may have won a series in Australia not long ago, yet they will be tested by West Indies from Thursday. Now the players have realized how important every Test is. There’s a prize to play for.
There are some who continue to play in all three formats in domestic cricket despite being dumped from shorter formats internationally, some of course justifiably.
Here is a player who may not be all that comfortable playing in the shorter formats because of his bulk. But he gets straightaway into the Test squad, though after a long wait. Rahkeem Cornwall, a six-feet, six-inch, 140kg player, forced his way into the West Indies squad for the first Test by the sheer weight of his performances, playing first-class cricket for five years.
Antiguan Cornwall has to his name 260 wickets from 55 matches, with 17 fifers and two 10-wicket hauls. He is no mean batsman, having a ton and 13 fifties in his aggregate of 2,224 at 24.43. Decent enough to be classified as an all-rounder.
Will he get to play when West Indies already have another all-rounder in Roston Chase, who also bowls off-spin and is in the team more for his batting? That’s West Indies’ headache whereas India have enough issues to sort out before Virat Kohli goes out to toss on Thursday.
No playing XI is selected on the basis of the showing in a warm-up game. India opener KL Rahul and Karnataka teammate Mayank Agarwal did not get many runs in the practice game, but they should go out to open in the first Test. The former because of his captain’s vote and the latter for his excellent batting in Australia.
As the team management had done in the past, it should not be tempted to disturb the opening combination to accommodate a middle-order batsman. Unlike in the ODIs, there is no question mark over who bats at No. 4. It is Virat Kohli, who will come in behind the prolific Cheteshwar Pujara.
Kohli personally might like to see Ajinkya Rahane following him, runs, no runs or a hundred for quite some time. Rahane will be out if the captain wants to play both Rohit Sharma, on his World Cup form, and Hanuma Vihari. The latter has done nothing to harm his chances, getting runs even in the warm-up game.
Rohit played in two Tests in Australia, one when Vihari was pushed to open in the third, and had one fifty. Vihari can bowl his tidy off-spin and he took three wickets, including those of century-makers Joe Root and Alastair Cook off successive deliveries in the second innings of the fifth Test at the Oval. Rohit was not in the squad for the tour.
Vihari’s importance goes up if the team management decides not to play the team’s No 1 spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, preferring either Ravindra Jadeja, for his batting and fielding, or chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. A tough call even if it is a welcome problem.
There is no doubt about the three pacers. Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will be the men to share the new ball and they are among the best in business.
Rishabh Pant must get the wicketkeeper’s job after his hundreds in England and Australia, though he may not measure up to the glove work of Wriddhiman Saha, who is back after a long time. Saha will be hoping to be re-established in the XI soon. The question is which spinner plays and which batsman comes in at No 6.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)