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By Partab Ramchand
There will be a tendency to dismiss the Indian victory in the first Test at Kingston as routine. The Indians have been notching up victories abroad at regular intervals and this could well be on the face of it just another win. After all in the last five years the team has registered victories in West Indies, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa besides emerging triumphant in the Test series in West Indies, England and New Zealand. Moreover the Indians are No 1 and the West Indians No 7 in the ICC rankings. Everyone is aware of how emaciated the West Indies are with palpable weaknesses in batting, bowling and fielding. Also these are not happy times for the West Indies on and off the field.
Be that as it may one important fact should not be overlooked. The Indians are not at full strength. The likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan were missing from the starting line-up at Kingston. A lot has been said and written of the Indian bench strength and it was felt that the tour of the Caribbean would give them the perfect opportunity in the absence of the stars to prove their worth. To an extent this has been proved right and from this viewpoint the Kingston win can be termed as a significant victory and the series could well be a historic, path breaking one if the youngsters all perform in keeping with their growing reputation.
Unfortunately this was true only to a point. Murali Vijay and Abhivan Mukund had a glorious chance to show that they belonged in a higher category in the absence of Sehwag and Gambhir but they don’t look ready to take over from a highly successful opening pair. Neither did Virat Kohli exactly cover himself with glory. The absence of Tendulkar gave him the opportunity to show that he could make the transition from limited overs cricket to the game’s traditional format but he could not have strengthened his case with scores of four and 15. The No 6 slot is really up for grabs with Yuvraj, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Cheteswar Pujara being the contenders. Raina showed why he should still be a serious candidate with his dazzling first innings knock which had an enormous influence on the ultimate outcome.
Even if VVS Laxman failed the selectors’ insistence of staying with the established stars was vindicated by Rahul Dravid’s performance. Following his recent indifferent form in Tests abroad question marks were being raised as to whether Dravid too like Tendulkar and Laxman does not have too much to offer Indian cricket. Now one thing is clear. Even if Tendulkar and Laxman for the sake of argument do not have too much to contribute to the Indian team in the near future no such arguments can be made out against Dravid. At 38 and after exactly 15 years of Test cricket he can still be counted upon to play the rescue act to perfection. More than any other single performance it was Dravid’s hundred on a difficult track that shaped India’s victory. The Indian batting then continues to be an ideal blend of youth and experience.
How will the Indian bowling perform without the presence of Zaheer was the question being asked on the eve of the series. Well, actually the quartet exceeded expectations. Let’s not forget that this was not supposed to be the starting line-up, that under normal circumstances it should have been Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel opening the bowling. The injury to Munaf opened the doors for Parveen Kumar and the experts reckoned that he could be a force to reckon with only in English conditions with his banana outswing. The stout hearted medium pace bowler from Uttar Pradesh however proved that he could be successful on any surface even slightly helpful. But for being banished from the bowling crease in the first innings thanks to the unforgivable offence of repeatedly running on to the danger area it is conceivable to imagine that he would have ended up with more than six wickets for the match. With the tall Ishant predictably relishing the conditions it is clear now that Munaf has to fight to regain his place and healthy competition is always a good augury.
One was however somewhat disappointed by the show of the spin duo. Amit Mishra’s confidence should have been sky high after his splendid performance in the ODIs and one thought that he had permanently moved ahead of Pragyan Ojha and Piyush Chawla in the choice of second spinner. But he was wayward in his length and line and whenever he tried something different he was collared. But there is no doubt that he has some skills and for the moment should be persevered. As for Harbhajan Singh even after almost three years in his role of senior spinner it appears he still has to come to terms with his responsibilities. One wonders whether he being just four wickets away from the 400-mark is not weighing on his head for he appears too anxious to take wickets. There is a palpable fall in his strike rate and average.
Looking ahead to the second Test starting on Tuesday there is very little the Indians need to do. Too much chopping and changing is undesirable and it is but fair that the failures should be given another chance to redeem themselves. This West Indian side has too many chinks in their armour and if the Indians play up to their potential there is every reason to believe that they can wrap up the series at Bridgetown even granting the fact that the visitors have lost seven out of eight Tests played at this venue.