The India Test challenge is monumental but not impossible


The India Test challenge is monumental but not impossible

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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It speaks to the great strength of Indian cricket and Virat Kohli's squad that a class act such as Rohit Sharma is not an automatic choice in Test cricket.

And that on the eve of the first Test against the West Indies starting Thursday, there was media speculation as to whether vice captain Ajinkya Rahane deserves his place in the Test side.

Quite simply any top-six batting combination from the likes of Kohli, Rahane, Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Hanuma Vihari is superior to any other in contemporary Test cricket.

India's bowling is just as strong and well balanced. Their fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav are as good as any. Likewise it is difficult to match the spin attack of Ravi Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja.

All of that means India will be disappointed if they do not top the World Test Championships at the end of the next two years.

Yet for all of that and despite being handily beaten by India in the recently completed white-ball formats of India's tour of the West Indies, Jason Holder and his men can't afford to be intimidated as they enter the first Test in Antigua.

They must keep front and centre the good memories of the West Indies upset 2-1 Test triumph over touring England at the start of 2019.

I confess I was surprised at the inclusion of the 26-year-old off-spinning all-rounder Rahkeem Cornwall in the West Indies 13-man squad. That's because Roston Chase, the middle order batsman who was so impressive with his off-breaks against England, is an automatic choice, once fit in body and mind.

With Chase's off spin already available, I had thought that the other spinner would be the left-arm orthodox Jomel Warrican — if only because he would present greater variety.

Clearly then, interim chairman of selectors Robert Haynes and his team decided that it was no longer tenable to keep ignoring the claims of Cornwall with his sharp bounce and turn.

Without doubt, Cornwall — easily the top off spinner in the Caribbean and a good lower order batsman — would have made the West Indies team long ago, had it not been for his great bulk which hinders mobility in the outfield and while running between wickets.

Cornwall, a very tall man at six foot five inches, is also the bulkiest first-class cricketer I have ever seen.

His fitness, or lack of it, has always been the issue. Yet, in terms of wickets and runs, he has consistently proven himself for the Leeward Islands franchise and for West Indies “A”. Hence the decision of the selectors to take the plunge.

Yet, if the pitches are as friendly to seamers as they were against England and for tours by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh last year, Cornwall may well find himself having to sit and watch.

Holder and company may well decide on a combination of pacemen Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, the 21 year-old Keemo Paul and Holder himself in a four-man pace attack with spin support from Chase. The man missing from the pace attack which beat England is Alzarri Joseph, who is recovering from injury.

His valiant half-century on a very difficult pitch against England in a winning cause earlier this year may influence the selectors to select Darren Bravo for the first Test. But the 30-year-old did little else during the England tour and failed in the weekend warm-up against India. Bravo will be aware that Shamarh Brooks, also 30, deserves his chance.

While West Indies fast bowlers have done well in Test cricket over the last two years, top order batsmen will have to step up in style over these two Tests, if India are to be beaten.

Number one opener Kraigg Brathwaite was worryingly short of runs against England, while new opening partner John Campbell, 25, had good starts without converting. These two did fairly well together at the under-19 level. West Indies will prosper if they can recover that vibe.

And even as we debate Bravo or Brooks, others from four to six in the batting order were less than compelling against England. While Chase scored a century in a losing cause in the third Test, he, Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer will surely recognise that they can't keep relying on Holder and 'keeper Shane Dowrich to save the day.

This is late August, which is very late in the year to be playing Test cricket in the northern Caribbean. Let's hope the weather cooperates.

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