Past record and present form are two very important criteria when it comes to analyzing prospects before a Test series starts. But going by these two yardsticks on the eve of the three-match contest between India and West Indies would present a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. On past record it would appear that the home team should start firm favourites. On nine previous visits to the Caribbean Indian teams have returned victorious only twice - in 1971 and 2006 – having lost on the other seven other occasions.
On present form however the Indians should outclass Darren Sammy and his men. India are No 1 in the ICC rankings while West Indies are No 7. India have not lost a Test series since going down 1-2 in Sri Lanka in 2008. Other than that reverse the Indians over the last five years have won in West Indies, England and New Zealand besides sharing contests in Sri Lanka and South Africa and being virtually unbeatable at home. On the other hand one does not care to remember when West Indies last won a Test series against any of the major teams.
The events of the just concluded ODI series could well be a pointer of what might happen in the Tests. The Indian team was virtually a second string thanks to some of the leading players being injured or rested and yet they won the five-match series 3-2 though their limp challenge towards the end of the contest could have done little for their confidence levels. In the Tests too the visitors will not be at full strength in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth. Still they would appear to have enough ammunition to get the better of a West Indian side looking increasingly vulnerable in the absence of Chris Gayle. In a mediocre side a player of Gayle’s standing could make a world of difference both as a run getter and an inspiring figure.
And yet one cannot help feeling that the morale of the Indians, sky high after taking a 3-0 lead, must have taken a bit of a nosedive after the loss in the last two ODIs. The lack of killer instinct has almost always been a flaw in the approach of Indian cricketers. A sense of compacency and being all too easily satisfied has been one of the lamentable traits over the years. And even though there has been improvement in this regard of late old habits as they say die hard and vestitages of this flawed approach are seen now and then. When your opponent is down, keep him pinned there and do not allow him a second chance, an avenue to get up. That is the essence of the great sides which have kept winning. The Indians had put themselves in line for a 5-0 clean sweep. This would have raised their confidence level for the Test series. Instead we had a re-run of the old failing as the Indians seemed to take things lightly in the last two games and the result was that the West Indies by winning both have in fact boosted their morale on the eve of the Test series.
On paper the Indians would seem to have the edge. On class, skill and experience it is hard to beat the visitors’ credentials. The batting even in the absence of the several stalwarts is strong enough and it is worth recalling that the triumph on the last visit five years ago was achieved without the presence of Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly and it is conceivable to think that the West Indies were a stronger team then. This could inspire the Indians who are an ideal blend of youth and experience to pull off yet another series victory. The bowling too even without Zaheer and Sreesanth is in capable hands and Suresh Raina has recently been quoted as saying that this is the best fielding side he has been part of.
The West Indians on the other hand besides being a mercurial lot are over dependant on a few players. For one reason or the other Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell – besides Gayle of course - are not in the starting line-up. But the presence of Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels means that the side is not short on experience while the likes of Darren Bravo, Adrian Barath and Devendra Bishoo are exciting choices. Despite the presence of Bishoo pace is going to be the West Indies’ trump card and much will depend on how Kemar Roach and Fidel Edwards are able to hurtle them down.
Only last month the West Indies drew 1-1 with Pakistan in a two-Test series. If they can produce the same result against India they will be more than pleased.