India take on pace-heavy Windies in Test opener
Kingston: Beset with injury worries but bolstered by the return of talismanic skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni from a break, world number one India take on the West Indies in the first cricket Test of a three-match series, starting on Monday.
Opener Murali Vijay and Munaf Patel are seriously in doubt for the Test and if either of the two miss out, it would be a huge blow for a side which is already without senior batsmen Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan.
Vijay was hit painfully on his right forefinger in his very first net session in the Caribbean and went for an X-ray on Saturday.
Munaf has been inactive for the better part of this week, having injured his right elbow during the preceding one-day series which India won 3-2.
"Vijay is our first choice as an opener but if he is unfit, then Parthiv Patel will open the innings," declared Dhoni while hoping Munaf will turn up fit on the morning of the Test.
With replacement pacer Abhimanyu Mithun yet to arrive in the Caribbean due to visa issues, the visitors are seriously undermined in the bowling department.
It now seems certain that Praveen Kumar will make his Test debut and give company to tall and gangling Ishant Sharma.
Ishant has lately been a regular in India`s Test eleven but he is far from being the spearhead.
India would have two spinners in Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra as its other frontline bowlers which is ironical given the crying need for more pace on a hard and bouncy Sabina Park pitch.
West Indies, on the other hand, could end up fielding four fast bowlers to make the most of the prevailing conditions and carry the late momentum of the ODI series forward.
West Indies could play Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul alongwith skipper Darren Sammy as its pace-bowling battery. Leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo will be the lone slow bowler to offer relief to faster men.
The hosts thus have a tailor-made opportunity to catch the visitors napping as their fast bowlers can work their way past the untested openers and the batters can take advantage of an undermined Indian pace attack.
India`s main strength in middle order would be required to bat for long hours and score enough as a cushion for its below-strength bowling attack.
The world`s best side is missing three of its regular batters but still has enough class to post a healthy total on the board.
In Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the tourists have two batsmen who have 270 Tests and 47 centuries, besides nearly 20,000 Test runs between them.
Young Virat Kohli, who will be one of the three Indian debutants along with opener Abhinav Mukund and Praveen Kumar, is ready for Test cricket.
Left-hander Suresh Raina will look to make a regular place for himself at number five while Dhoni is a substantial influence in the lower half of the batting.
There would be some individual motivations for the Indians as Harbhajan Singh (93 Tests) is just seven shy of the 400-wicket mark while Ishant Sharma (31 Tests) needs 10 more to complete a 100-wicket haul in Tests.
Laxman (120 Tests) needs 97 runs to complete 8,000 Test runs.
West Indies, despite missing on Chris Gayle, looks a reasonable side on paper.
Opener Lendl Simmons was among the runs in one-day series and left-hander Darren Bravo, alongwith the experienced Ramnaresh Sarwan, made a telling score in the final game.
Veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul will add muscle to the middle order as would the under-performing Marlon Samuels. However, the hosts` strength remains their bowling and the conditions which are overtly favourable to them.
The pitch at Sabina Park is rock-hard and there is a possibility that it would have enough moisture on the opening day of the Test.
The conditions at Kingston are torturously hot and humid which could test the fitness of both the teams.
History too is heavily loaded in the favour of the hosts who have won six of the 10 Tests against India at this venue though the last one was claimed by the latter in 2006.
It still is a chilling thought for the visitors that in the last Test played at this venue, England were bowled out for 51 off 33-odd overs by the rampaging West Indians in 2009.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Abhinav Mukund, Murali Vijay, Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Brendan Nash (vice-captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh, Devendra Bishoo, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
The Test starts 8.30 pm IST.