NORTH SOUND, Antigua and Barbuda: West Indies and India commence a four-Test series at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Thursday with the visitors heavily favoured to extend a 14-year unbeaten run against the hosts.
Such is the gap in performance between the two teams that anything less than a 3-0 triumph by the Indians will see them lose rating points in their quest to close the gap on Australia at the top of the official international Test rankings.
Despite an outstanding 2016 for the West Indies in shorter forms of the game, which has seen success at the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, triumph for both the men’s and women’s teams at the World T20 in India and an encouraging effort in reaching the final of the Tri-Nation One-Day International Series on home soil last month, they continue to struggle in the traditional Test arena.
They lost 2-0 in both their last two series in Sri Lanka and Australia at the end of 2015.
Periods of competitiveness were too fleeting in those matches, highlighting the chronic inconsistency of the Caribbean side which has left them languishing eighth in the world Test rankings with only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe below them.
West Indies selectors have taken the bold step of dropping experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin for Shane Dowrich, who made his Test debut as a specialist batsman against Australia in Dominica a year ago.
They have stuck with veteran batsman Marlon Samuels, but he is badly in need of a run of scores. Functional but unattractive opener Kraigg Brathwaite will be entrusted with the tough task of providing solidity at the top of the order.
West Indies’ biggest concern, though, is in the bowling department where the two main wicket-takers, pacer Shannon Gabriel and leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, have been injury-prone over the past 12 months.
Fast-medium bowler Miguel Cummins is tipped for a Test debut having replaced the retired Jerome Taylor while skipper Jason Holder and fellow all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite are likely to be called upon to produce long, tight spells of medium pace.
India appear to be contemplating omitting the seasoned Rohit Sharma from their middle-order and still seem undecided over the pace-spin balance of their bowling attack on a pitch that traditionally gets slower and lower over five days.
Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are likely to be relied upon in Antigua, but India possess a third spin option in Amit Mishra.
Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are vying to take the new ball, while the visitors’ attacking strokemakers, led by captain Virat Kohli, will be expected to turn the screws with the bat.
West Indies – Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, Leon Johnson, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Shane Dowrich (wicketkeeper), Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Devendra Bishoo, Miguel Cummins, Shannon Gabriel.
India – Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma.