It's Marlon Samuels vs Virat Kohli: How two batting mainstays will decide the course of West Indies-India series
The West Indies-India series has all the likelihood of becoming a fight between two batting mainstays — Marlon Samuels and Virat Kohli.
Thanks to their towering presence – as the backbone of their respective batting line-ups, both Samuels and Kohli hold the key to the outcome of the series.
The West Indies team, which is going through a perpetual transition phase for the last few years, will rely on the experience of the 35-year-old batsman, who is also the most senior player in the squad – both in terms of years and matches.
Another batsman of highest pedigree, Darren Bravo's 42 Tests appearances is still 20 short of Samuels' total. But Samuels surely knows how to lead and guide the team, as evident from the recent ICC World T20 campaign.
His aggregate of 3622 runs at an average of just over 33 pales in comparison to the West Indian greats, but he is now the soul of this inexperienced Caribbean team.
When Jason Holder leads his team against India in the four-Test series, the 24-year-old captain will depend heavily on Samuels.
If Samuels manages to find an upturn in his form, then West Indies can hope to challenge India's charge. After two disappointing away series against Sri Lanka and Australia, Samuels himself would be desperate to perform.
West Indies lost 0-2 in both their last two series in Sri Lanka and Australia.
The right-handed batsman from Kingston scored his first Test hundred against India at Kolkata in 2002, and in the ten Test matches against India, he has scored a total of 596 runs in 19 innings.
These figures certainly don't inspire much confidence, but he is primed to lead his side with the bat. With his experience coupled with a lack of seasoned batsman in the West Indian ranks, Samuels will now have to play the role of a leader in the batting department.
His seven hundreds and 22 fifties in 114 innings somehow fail to justify the talent Samuels carries, and the India series may well just provide him the stage to improve the stats.
Samuels enters the series as the 43rd ranked Test batsman, even behind his team-mates Bravo and Kraigg Brathwaite, but the Jamaican is the batsman the whole of Caribbean islands is looking upto.
For India, it's all about Kohli. His transition from a top batsman to a leader of the team has been exemplary. Many greats of the game have faltered when given that added responsibility of captaincy.
But the 27-year-old has so far produced results, backed up with his individual numbers. After taking the reigns from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he started his stint with a rare series win in Sri Lanka, a place where Indians have failed to exert their supremacy.
The first full-fledged Test series under Kohli's leadership witnessed India playing for win, and it paid rich dividends to a team known for playing safe. It's what many expect from the Kohli-led team in the Caribbean islands. And India sure start as the favourites, thanks to their higher ranking and a stable team.
But another important aspect which augurs well for the visitors is that in Kohli, they have a captain who can win matches single-handedly.
It's a fact that India have always been predominantly a batting reliant team, and true to that fact, the team has never lacked quality batsmen.
Besides the skipper, this touring team has the likes of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Lokesh Rahul — all capable of playing big knocks.
Except Sharma and Rahul, the aforementioned four Indians are in the top 20 of Test batsmen ranking. But none comes close to the aura Kohli carries.
In his last 22 innings, starting with the series Down Under last December, Kohli has scored five hundreds. The series in Australia witnessed Kohli stamping his authority in Test cricket by scoring 692 runs in eight innings.
There was a brief lull though, in Bangladesh, where he scored only 30 runs in two innings. But soon, the right-handed batsman produced the goods when India toured Sri Lanka, only to see an average output against South Africa at home.
This tour of West Indies holds special importance for Kohli as it's India's first series after the long and arduous limited-overs' campaigns of Asia Cup, ICC World Twenty20 and not to forget the Indian Premier League.
In these last 12 months, India played only seven Tests, three in Sri Lanka and four at home against South Africa, and won both times – 2-1 in Lanka and 3-0 against the Proteas, under Kohli's leadership. And he will like to continue the winning spree in West Indies.
Kohli has stamped his name as a modern day great in limited-overs formats. Now is the time for him to take his already impressive Test records to the next level. An average of 44.02 in Test is not good enough for a player who has got 51.51 and 58.60 in ODI and T20I respectively.
If we were to consider his IPL 2016 form too, wherein he scored a whopping 973 runs including four hundreds in 16 innings, then it is safe to assume that Kohli is ready for yet another brilliant series. This time in the game's traditional format. And he knows it.
India, second in the Test rankings, are likely to dominate the series against eighth-ranked West Indies.
However, West Indies have had an outstanding 2016 in shorter forms of the game, having won a troika of titles — Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, World T20 titles for men's and women's in India.
But the fact which remains for West Indies is that they continue to struggle in the Test arena, whereas India continues to gain new grounds as one of world's cricket superpower, in all forms.
And the contest between the these two teams of contrasting realities is likely to come down to these two individuals, with Samuels playing a saviour's role and Kohli taking the role of an enforcer.
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