It’s not the kind of mock test India will fancy appearing ahead of their main examination. First, Australia would be a far sterner challenge in their backyard than the Windies here in India. Second, the conditions that the hosts may try to simulate might not come too close to those Down Under. But 24 hours ahead of the first ball of the series, the center wicket at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Ground wears a very greenish look. Close enough?
On the face of it, India are heavy favourites to win both Tests of the series, but that isn’t the only box they want to tick. India come into this series making a few strong statements with their selection moves. For beginners, there’s no Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan, instead they have Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal, two untested openers at the top level, vying for an opening spot. The team management, on Wednesday (October 3), confirmed that it would be the 18-year-old Mumbai lad making his Test debut, having earned his maiden call-up earlier during the second half of the England tour.
It’s an interesting call given Mayank brings in more experience, and that he scored a flamboyant 90 in the two-day practice game against the same Windies line-up at Vadodara (Shaw scored 8). While the skipper has promised to give the young guys “enough chances and space” to feel comfortable at the top of the order, the fact remains they have, right now, only two Tests to make a mark.
Reports have also emerged that the Indian cricket board flew in chief curator Daljit Singh and Vishwajit Padyar to assist the local curators in preparing the surface. History has it that Rajkot’s 22-yard strip has been mistaken for the Jamnagar-Rajkot highway on all three occasions it hosted international cricket, with bucketful of runs on offer. In such a situation, how much would the new-look surface simulate the Australian conditions? Retaining the tinge of green also comes at the peril of underestimating Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder, two of a bowling pack that just accounted for 56 wickets between them in five Tests at home. India, though, wouldn’t mind that examination.
As for the tourists, Kieran Powell will look to just end the debate about his faltering opening career. Back at the top after the team decided to halt the experiment with the 36-year-old Devon Smith who played the last five Tests, Powell will look to nail that spot. There’s also a lot that will depend on how well Shai Hope and Roston Chase enjoy carrying the burden. Given his three Test hundreds have come against India and Pakistan, Chase’s spin-handling credentials are one of the best in their team, and with India retaining three spinners in their 12-member list, his role is set to become more critical by the time.
When: October 4-8, 2018, 9.30 IST, 04:00 GMT
Where: Saurashtra Cricket Stadium, Rajkot
What to expect: Although head coach Stuart Law mentioned that the Windies will rather be in the hot than the cold given the weather back home is not too different, these conditions will truly test their absorption levels. The temperature is expected to graze the 40 degrees mark with a humidity of 30 percent.
Team News:IndiaIndia confirmed news of Shaw’s debut on the match eve, while leaving out Mayank and middle-order specialist Hanuma Vihari, who featured in India’s last Test at the Oval.
It’s certain that the hosts are playing five bowlers – whether that includes three seamers or two, will be the choice they have to make. Kuldeep Yadav and Shardul Thakur bowled on both days ahead of the Rajkot fixture. Even if they go in with Shardul as the third seamer, he’s unlikely to play a major role in the Australia tour ahead (With Ishant, Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah in the wings). Kuldeep, after a forgettable Test at Lord’s, could find conditions and opposition more to his liking in order to get a foothold in Test cricket.
Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav/Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav
West IndiesLaw confirmed that senior pacer Kemar Roach will miss the first Test owing to a bereavement in his family. However, he exuded immense confidence in two new young pacers – Keemo Paul and Sherman Lewis. The tourists already have Devendra Bishoo in their wings to go with Chase’s off-breaks, and the first signs of the wicket at Rajkot might not tempt them to play left-arm orthodox spinner Jomel Warrican.
Probable XI: Kraigg Brathwaite, Kieran Powell, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (wk), Jason Holder (c), Devendra Bishoo, Keemo Paul, Sherman Lewis/Jomel Warrican, Shannon Gabriel
Did you know:The last time Windies won a Test match in India was in 1994 in Mohali and the last time they beat India anywhere was in 2002 in Kingston. They have beaten all the opponents at least once since.
R Ashwin averages 56.66 against Windies with the bat – the highest for him against an opponent – and all his four Test 100s have come against them. With the ball he has taken 51 wickets in nine Tests against WI at 22.15.
Prithvi Shaw will be the youngest specialist batsman to make Test debut for India since Sachin Tendulkar made his in Karchi in 1989.
What they said:Apart from the top order getting cemented, I don’t think that with these two Test matches there is a lot that we are looking at, rest of the team looks quite settled, it’s just that at the top of the order, these guys are new and will take a bit of time to get into it. They definitely have the skill-set and supremely talented and what we have seen of them is very very exciting – Virat Kohli, India skipper, on how they are trying to tune up the opening combination.
We’ve got people like Kraigg Brathwaite who has been there for a long time and has had some success as well, these are the guys who will be looking to carry the batting forward. Guys like Roston and Shai probably haven’t had a great period in the last couple of months and will be looking to turn things around and lean on guys like Kraigg, myself, Shane has been good too – Jason Holder, Windies skipper, on his team’s batting abilities.