Predictably, and understandably, the context of the two-Test series will far supersede its contest. And whatever feats of cricketing glory be achieved or drama be witnessed, the series will unarguably be dwarfed by the grander occasion of Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell. For once, rarest of the rare instances in sport, the verdict of the series will be of sheer academic perusal even before the first ball has been bowled.
In that sense, it’s reliving the 90s mindset, when the television sets were promptly turned off after his dismissal. The 70,000-odd pairs of eyeballs in the stadium and tenfold as many on television will squarely rivet their gaze on Tendulkar. Nothing else will be heard or seen, but him.
But for his valediction and his epochal the 200 Test, the series might have even struggled for relevance, a whistle-stop rubber squeezed between the limited-over series against Australia and the more significant tour to South Africa. And the West Indies, despite chimes of renewal ringing in, isn’t as feared or fancied a team as in their splendid heyday. Apart from the talismanic Chris Gayle, there aren’t too many men of aura.
All the same, to understate them will only be inviting hazard, for they have transformed from a functional to an able unit under Darren Sammy. He may not be the archetypal swagger-wielding Bajan or a gnarled taskmaster, but he has succeeded to forge a sense of unity amongst his men. At least, they aren’t as disjointed a bunch as they had seemed a few months ago.
Not much, though, can be read into their recent returns in Tests—six successive wins—as it came against a side in transition, a team that had just been reintroduced into the Test fold and a group that contrives to underwhelm. But prod back a little further, and they had gone winless for nine Tests, losing six of them.
Hence, they have only challenged not triumphed over the top-brass sides. That said, they have capable batsmen such as the experienced Gayle, Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who will feature in his 150 Test. Add to the mix, the mercurial Darren Bravo, the evolving Kieran Powell and late bloomer Narsingh Deonarine, they have enough batsmen capable to take on India’s spinners, defected by Ravindra Jadeja’s absence.
Their spinners, too, fared creditably in the unofficial Tests and with a little help from the strip, expected to be a slow turner by its bald look, could test India’s batsmen. They have been slightly vulnerable to high-class spin, and although Veersaammy Permaul and Shane Shillingford are no Monty Panesar or Graeme Swann, they can be pesky in bursts. Shillingford and pacer Kemar Roach, though, are racing against time to prove their fitness.
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma will likely make his much anticipated debut in the longer version while Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin will seek a repeat of their wicket-hunting spree in their previous series against the tourists, wherein they shared a voluminous haul of 42 wickets. Ashwin, especially, will immediately seek a high-dose of morale after being carted by the Aussie batsmen. Interesting will be India’s pace combo, as to whether the think tank will prefer Umesh Yadav to Ishant Sharma. But all these will be of superficial interest, as this fixture will only be attached to public consciousness and inscribed in the sport’s annals as Tendulkar’s 199.
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