India-WI Tests: A battle of not-so-equals unfolds in Dominica

Once a rivalry steeped in history, the two Tests will only be a watered down version of the glorious past

Rahul Dravid (left) with Virat Kohli (photo courtesy: @virat.kohli/Instagram)
Rahul Dravid (left) with Virat Kohli (photo courtesy: @virat.kohli/Instagram)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s a rivalry which was once steeped in history for the cricket romantics. However, the terminal decline of the Caribbeans as a cricket power, more so in the longer format of the game, means another edition of a watered down version of the rivalry is on the cards when India and the West Indies lock horns in a two-Test series from Wednesday, July 12.

Windsor Park, Dominica will host the first Test from July 12-16, to be followed by the second one at the Queens Park Oval in Trinidad from July 20-24. Even as the second Test will coincide with the fourth match of the humdinger of an Ashes series, the historic significance of the Trinidad contest may not be lost altogether on the oldtimers as it will be the 100th Test match between these two countries.

What is it that has traditionally made an India-West Indies series high on emotional quotient? Two events, which were doing the rounds on social media in the somewhat lukewarm build-up to the series perhaps holds the key. If the first one were the visuals of a rare public appearance of Sir Gary Sobers to meet the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma & Co at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, the other one was the 74th birthday of Sunil Gavaskar, the OG of Indian cricket.

Sir Gary, now a pale shadow of himself at the ripe old age of 86, captained the West Indies during India’s tour of 1971 – a watershed series which India won 1-0 while it saw the emergence of a 21-year-old Gavaskar as the ‘find’ of the series. A staggering aggregate of 774 runs by Gavaskar, alongwith the often unsung contribution of the late Dilip Sardesai, shaped Indian cricket’s folklore – as the series is considered as a precursor of several fascinating battles over the next half a century.

Cut to 2023, it may be yet another round of the new World Test Championship (WTC) cycle — but there is plenty on offer to provide a context. For Rohit Sharma’s men, who were the fall guys after yet another humbling defeat in their second straight WTC final, the onus will be to live upto the billing of the so-called favourites tag. A two-Test series is not really the best examination of character in this format, but this has become the norm unless at least two of the ‘Big Three’ are involved in the contests.

In the hosts’ camp, the mood may be at an alltime low after the recent humiliation of the two-time champions failing to qualify for the ICC 50-overs World Cup for the first time. It will be a tough ask for Brian Lara, hastily appointed as mentor of the team and skipper Kraigg Brathwaite, to keep the morale high and show there is more to West Indies cricket that just revelling as the journeymen of franchise cricket across the world.

There is certainly a big gulf in the reputation and experience between the teams, so much so that there is a school of thought which felt that India ought to have rested both the big guns — Virat Kohli and Rohit for some of the bigger battles ahead. The only refreshing change in the batting line-up is that of the promising Yashasvi Jaiswal, who is likely to step in the place of Cheteshwar Pujara at the key No. 3 position.

The West Indies distinctly look lightweights in comparison, though there are a number of proven performers in this format in Jermaine Blackwood and Jason Holder, while the pace attack of Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach can be a handful with the new ball.

Post Script: A small piece of trivia will sump the bit on experience. Kohli, incidentally, will become only the second Indian after Sachin Tendulkar to play against both the father and the son on a cricket pitch. Tendulkar was the first to do so when he faced Geoff Marsh in 1992 and went on to play against Shaun Marsh in the 2011-12 Australia tour.

Virat, meanwhile, faced the West Indian legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the Indian’s debut Test series in 2011. Come Wednesday, he will play against Shivnarine’s son Tagenarine Chanderpaul, who is set to play his seventhTest. Now, howzat?

West Indies (likely XI): Kraigg Brathwaite (c), Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Kirk McKenzie, Alick Athanaze, Jermaine Blackwood, Rahkeem Cornwall, Jason Holder, Joshua Da Silva (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach.

India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Jaydev Unadkat.

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