Just under four months since the West Indies inflicted a crushing home defeat on India on in the semifinals of the World Twenty20, India will look to return the favor. The two cricket heavyweights will take the field in Antigua on Thursday for the first encounter of a four-match Test series in the Caribbean.
And both teams begin with much to prove. For the West Indies, the win over India in March was followed by a defeat of England to claim the World T20 title for the second time in the last three editions. It was a triumph that continued a hugely successful year for the West Indies in international tournaments. As well as winning the Under-19 World Cup, just hours before the men took world T20 glory the women’s side claimed the equivalent prize.
In limited overs cricket, the West Indies remain a real force. In Test cricket, though, it is a very different story. Indeed, it is almost exactly four years since the West Indies last won a Test series against a side other than minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Of their last 13 Test matches, the West Indies has only won one.
A team that dominated Test cricket in the 1980s, not losing a single series, now faces becoming an irrelevance in the longer form of the game. In their last series, in December and January, the West Indies suffered a humbling defeat by Australia. Still, coach Phil Simmons insists there is a platform to build upon.
“Every series is significant,” he told reporters at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Tuesday. “I think it's a case where we want to continue winning. We won the last Test match we played in the Caribbean against England and then we had a couple of matches against Australia where we didn't do well. So now, we just want to try and build on what we have been trying to do in Australia and the last two Tests there were not as bad. So we're looking to build on that.”
With the West Indies having fallen so far down the Test pecking order, only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe sit behind them in the rankings, India is expected to win, and win well. In order to do that, it will need to start demonstrating that its struggles away from the Indian subcontinent are now a thing of the past.
India has lost its last six Test series outside of the familiar pitch conditions found at home or with its near neighbors. Its last win came against the West Indies in 2011, but even replicating the 1-0 margin of victory from five years ago will be somewhat underwhelming given the talent differential that now appears to exist between the teams in the Test arena.
There is hope, though, that a new era is dawning. This will be the first series away from the subcontinent with Virat Kohli as captain, after Mahendra Singh Dhoni stepped down during a losing effort in Australia at the end of 2014. It will also be the first match in any format with Anil Kumble as coach. A series with the West Indies would appear to provide the ideal start, but batsman Ajinkya Rahane insists that India won’t be taking its opponents lightly.
“It’s important to give respect to the opponent,” he told the Board of Control for Cricket in India after India drew both its warmup matches. “I think west indies they have a decent attack – [Jason] Holder, [Carlos] Brathwaite, [Shannon] Gabriel, [Devendra] Bishoo -- so it’s important to play according to the merit of the team. You cannot take the opponent lightly. As long as we are playing to our strengths, playing to our potential that will help us in this Test series.”
Rahane is among those expecting slow conditions for at least the first Test, which could lead to India fielding five bowlers at the expense of an extra batsman.
First Test Schedule
Thursday, July 21-Monday, July 25: All days beginning at 10 a.m. EDT
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