June 02, 2006

Abyss to Antigua!
Can India do a West Indies in the first test?
By Gaurav Sethi

Antigua! Brian Lara’s world beating test scores. Antigua! Viv Richards’ fastest test hundred. Antigua! Eight hundreds in a match. Antigua! The highest score to win a test match.

In spite of of the abysmal past decade in West Indies’ cricket, Antigua has invariably been a big time high for the home team. Rewind: The Windies lost 2-0 to South Africa. Before which they were rammed by Australia and England. But hang on, there’s always the dead rubber test at Antigua – where Brian Charles Lara gets 400 versus the Pommies (game drawn, surprise! surprise!), where over 400 is made to beat Oz (blame the Aussies for always losing the last test, a la Mumbai v/s India), where four Windies’ batsmen score hundreds v/s the Proteas, including Dwayne Bravo’s first and Chris Gayle’s 317. The same Gayle who didn’t make it to double figures in that entire series.

Going into Antigua this time, however, most of the West Indies’ batting is already firing – Sarwan, Gayle, Bravo, all appear to be on top of their game. Chanderpaul has always been prolific against India, and Lara as captain, has inspired a bunch of losers, who were barely better than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Where as India is wrought with misfired experiments, communication breakdowns (what else do you attribute all those run-outs to?), loss of form and self belief – it’s a team beaten into the ground, game after game after game after game. In a way they resemble the great Australian team that nearly lost the first test in Bangladesh recently. The Aussies had four bad days at the office, winning the match on the fifth. India goes to Antigua winning one and losing four ODIs. So, what does that Aussie team have in common with this India outfit? They’re both running on fumes – to borrow Brett Lee’s quote.

Even though the likes of Kapil pajji and Modi saab have tersely commented on the burnout issue, (‘let them rest if they can’t play’ or something to that effect) the truth is out there – the ODI team in the West Indies was India’s best available side. And it wasn’t too dissimilar from the one that beat Pakistan, England and Sri Lanka (superior in rankings, ability and morale than the West Indies).

Ironically, in India’s previous two one-day series’ wins, against Pakistan and England, the side was fresh from defeats in their last tests – in Karachi v/s Pak, and in Mumbai v/s England. Then it was the young guns - Yuvraj, Dhoni, Raina and Pathan that pulled the winning punches in the one-day games. This time they fell woefully short of expectations. Don’t need a face reader to tell us they look pooped.

So, what better place to overcome your exhaustion and low scores than Antigua?
- Going by past matches, the ground works like a spa for quick scoring batsmen – Sehwag and Yuvraj must look to emulate Lara and Gayle’s mega innings here. And while both sides have one lesser-established opener (Daren Ganga, W.I. and Wasim Jaffer, Ind.), they also share similar strengths in batting – India have Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Yuvraj, the Windies have the likes of Lara, Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Gayle.

While India have in M.S. Dhoni an all-rounder keeper, the opposition has Bravo, overshooting Pathan, as the man with the Midas touch. In bowling, both teams have insipid attacks; though with one-day regulars, Corey Collymore and Ian Bradshaw, the Windies may have a more disciplined, albeit boring attack. With Anil Kumble’s arrival, India too will add to the monotony of consistency, and bring back crazy memories from the last tour when head all bandaged up, Anil bhai bowled like a man possessed. Eeeks!

What India must realise is that Fidel Edwards (assuming the erratic Jerome Taylor doesn’t play) is the only tear away quickie in the enemy’s arsenal – and while the Bravo slower balls were effective in the one-dayers they should not be that potent in tests. Also, unless India wants to make Warnies and Muralis out of wannabe Windies’ spinners (non-spinners?), there is no way that spin should be a threat either.

If anything, Lara will be at his creative best as leader– and his experiments will be rivaled only by Chappell’s batting order shuffles. The part-timers Gayle, Samuels, and Sarwan should be played like slow medium pacers and neutralized completely. There are truckloads of runs and records to be had in Antigua. And neither team, at this point, has the ammo to bowl the other out twice. The ODI series is over. Let the real test er...run fest begin.

No comments: