Cricket, in Sachin Tendulkar‘s 199th Test match, is only a sideshow. And by no means is Tendulkar left happy about it. But there’s still a Test match to be played, and there are 21 other players who will have their roles to perform in Kolkata tomorrow.
Memories from the series 2 years ago, which gave many a memorable moments, may be too hard to remember in all this hoopla surrounding Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement, but India, despite winning their last series against West Indies 2-0 at home, would do good by taking them seriously, for they are not here just to make up numbers and be party to the great retirement show.
“As far as dedicating a victory is concerned, first and foremost we need to focus on cricket and look to win the series. Once we’ve won the series, we can decide who to dedicate it to.”
MS Dhoni has, as always, been clear and focussed to do the job at hand.
As India face West Indies in the 1st Test tomorrow, here’s a look at 5 things that will be under focus in this Test:
1. Sachin Tendulkar
Without a doubt, the first thing on everyone’s lips tomorrow morning will be, “Who’s batting first?”.
Having played 12 Tests in Eden Gardens, Tendulkar averages 47.88 at the ground, and incidentally, his highest score at the ground (176), came against West Indies in 2002.
With all the focus on the retirement preparations of India’s best batsman, he would be under tremendous pressure to score, if nothing else, at least a fifty. He’s 163 runs short of 16000 runs in Tests, and India would be hoping he gets there.
Last time around, his 94 at Wankhede left a bitter taste in the mouth, when everyone was waiting with bated breath for his hundred. This time around, anything from the Master’s bat is going to be cheered wildly by the crowd. It’s the last series, the penultimate Test. There’s no Sachin Tendulkar for India after November 18. India is going to be glued to their seats to watch this man.
2. The no. 6 position for India
Since Sourav Ganguly left in 2008, nobody has been able to make this slot his own. Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina juggled a lot, and just when it looked like Ravindra Jadeja would slam shut the door, the all-rounder’s shoulder injury has left Dhoni with more questions.
If India persist with Ajinkya Rahane, they’d be going in with 4 specialist bowlers. However, with Dhoni’s penchant for part-timers well-known, Rohit Sharma’s Test debut may well turn out to be driven by the need to have a bit-part bowler. Dhoni also has the option of Amit Mishra, but he would be wary of going in with only 5 specialist batsmen.
If Dhoni has enough faith in his two main spinners, Ashwin and Ojha, Ajinkya Rahane coming at No. 6 seems the likeliest possibility on Wednesday morning, though the Indian skipper would have to resist the temptation of - in the words of the opposition captain Darren Sammy – a ”fourth day track”.
3. The West Indian heavyweights
Shivnarine Chanderpaul would be playing his 149th Test in Kolkata. Chanderpaul has been a constant thorn in India’s side and his good form currently – he averages 83.56 in the last 2 years – will be a source of concern for India.
Apart from just Shiv, India have the likes of Darren Bravo, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels to contend with.
Gayle would be playing a Test for the first time in India since his debut, but he already has a Test century under his belt this year, and would be well versed with the Indian conditions to pose a credible threat to the hosts.
India would do good to remember what Bravo did to them in the last series – he averaged 67.33, scoring 404 runs, most by any batsman in that series. The left-hander loves a challenge of spin and would be the biggest threat after Chanderpaul for the Indians.
4. The opening question for India
After Shikhar Dhawan’s stupendous success in limited overs, it’s hard to imagine that it’s been a good 7-8 months since Dhawan scored 187 on Debut against Australia in Mohali. He’s cracked 4 centuries and 4 half-centuries since then in ODIs. The biggest test in front of him in Kolkata would be to adapt to the Test routine.
India batsmen are coming off a record-breaking series against Australia and their batsmen would be in supreme confidence of their abilities, but they would have to be careful against the pacers Kemar Roach and Tino Best, who have the ability to bring up the pace, and with the red cherry, out and out aggression may not turn out to be the best strategy for the mighty Indians.
Murali Vijay has failed to impress after being the top scorer against Australia earlier this year. The failures of both Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have made his inclusion in the side less surprising than what it should have been. Vijay has been a tried and tested failure overseas for India, and before departing to South Africa, the least selectors would expect, is another run-fest from the Chennai batsman.
5. The pace issue for India
Ishant Sharma is 51 Tests old, but he is in doubt for his place in the side after his mediocre performances of late. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav are the preferred choices ahead of him, and though there’s also the option of Mohammed Shami, the duo is expected to be India’s go-to men at the start of the West Indies innings.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s debut Test series was all about watching the proceedings from the sidelines. He has bowled only 64 overs in his 4 matches so far, which doesn’t reflect his captain’s faith in him as much as it does project the state of the pitches in the domestic series against Australia earlier this year.
The conditions are going to be the same this time too, and how he’s utilised this time around will reveal his role in the Indian bowling line-up in Tests.
Umesh Yadav performed exceedingly well against West Indies at home last time around, picking up 9 wickets at an average of 21.22. He was ‘rested’ for the Australian series, and having escaped possible punishment, the Indian genuine-pacer would be raring to go.