In what will be India’s first assignment
in the new World Test Championship cycle, Rohit Sharma and Co look to start on a winning note in the two-Test series against the West Indies. After losing the World Test Championship Final to Australia last month, it has become evident that there are glaring issues that need to be fixed.
With Cheteshwar Pujara and Umesh Yadav getting the axe in the Test set-up, India made a few big calls but the pressure is still upon the batting line-up to turn things around. However, before India truly enter the transition phase, they will be banking on their senior batters Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to be the driving force in the team.
Shubman Gill will also be expected to capitalise on his rich form, while Ruturaj Gaikwad and Yashasvi Jaiswal could be handed debuts.
“Indian cricket desperately needed a good left hander, and we found a very good player in Jaiswal,” captain Rohit Sharma said in the pre-match press conference. “He looks very promising, so is Ruturaj and Gill.
The 23-year-old Gill, who has played 16 Tests so far, scoring 921 runs over 30 innings, will be batting at number three, Sharma confirmed.
“Gill will be batting at number three because he himself wants to play in that position,” Sharma said.
“He has spoken to [head coach Rahul Dravid], saying he played all his cricket batting at number three and four. He said, ‘I think I can do much better for the team if I bat at number three’”.
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Kohli and Sharma, the two seniors, have shown sparks of brilliance here and there but have struggled to capitalise on the momentum they build. The opportunity is ripe, considering they will be going up against an opponent under pressure after losing the away series against South Africa 2-0.
Ajinkya Rahane, who marked a successful return to the Indian team in the WTC final, will be expected to carry forward his regained confidence. Simultaneously, he would be hoping to do justice to the vice-captaincy duties that he has been entrusted with again.
Axar Patel was not in action in the World Test Championship final, but his improved batting prowess was on display during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy where he scored 264 runs. India will be tempted to go in with three spin options in Patel and R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja but will also be assured of batting depth, considering all three are proficient batters.
With Mohammed Shami rested, Mohammed Siraj will lead the attack. Shardul Thakur will also be expected to do his fair share of heavy-lifting and be an able support. Jaydev Unadkat had a Ranji Trophy season to remember with Saurashtra and will be expected to carry that momentum in the Caribbean.
Mukesh Kumar, who has earned a call-up for India across all three formats, is unlikely to make his Test debut with just two Tests scheduled. Navdeep Saini, who has been recalled to the India squad, will be on his second tour to West Indies. He did not get a chance in the previous Tour and it is unlikely he will go up in the pecking order this time around too.
The pressure will be mounting on KS Bharat to up his game, after scoring a paltry 101 runs in four Tests against Australia and scores of 5 and 23 in the World Test Championship final. Although Ishan Kishan is yet to completely prove himself on the international stage, Bharat faces stiff competition for the wicket-keeper spot until Rishabh Pant can return to cricket.
Meanwhile, West Indies have called up the uncapped pair of left-handed top-order batters Jamaican Kirk McKenzie and Dominican Alick Athanaze for the opening Test against India starting on Wednesday in Dominica.
“We were very impressed with the approach to the batsmanship of McKenzie and Athanaze on the recent ‘A’ Team tour of Bangladesh,” said lead selector Desmond Haynes when the squad was announced.
“These are two young players who got good scores and played with great maturity, and we believe they deserve an opportunity,” he added.
West Indies will be missing left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie who is unavailable for selection as he is undergoing rehabilitation from injury. However, all-rounder Rahkeem Cornwall and left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican have been recalled by West Indies.
Following the two Test matches, the teams will then face off in three one-day internationals, the opening two in Barbados and the final match in Trinidad. The tour concludes with five T20 internationals played in Trinidad, Guyana and then the final pair of matches in Lauderhill, Florida on August 12 and 13.
West Indies squad for first Test: Kraigg Brathwaite (Captain), Jermaine Blackwood (Vice Captain), Alick Athanaze, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Rahkeem Cornwall, Joshua Da Silva, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kirk McKenzie, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican
Traveling Reserves: Tevin Imlach, Akeem Jordan.
India: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Virat Kohli, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), KS Bharat (wicket-keeper), Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Mohammed. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat, Navdeep Saini
With inputs from AFP