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Cricket news - Batting key for West Indies to sustain improved home record
The age old maxim in Test cricket is that the bowlers win you matches. However, the game is set up such that, when all the sums are done, one side has to be at least one run better than the other to be declared the winner.
West Indies have tasted success at home in recent times and it was built on the backs of their fast bowlers; they have not lost a Test series at home in two years since losing to Pakistan. As was seen in the first Test in Antigua, there have been more than a few times even during this good run, the West Indian batsmen disappeared from the scene. Trees in the Caribbean have resisted the winds from Hurricane Dorian a lot better than the Windies batsmen on that fourth afternoon in Antigua as Jasprit Bumrah ripped through the line up. At times, one would expect they would walk out to bat with a "FRAGILE" label stuck on them.
As the legendary Brian Lara worked with them, he stressed especially on the "mental aspects" of their batting; the need to stay focused on the task for longer periods. It seemed that lesson was not learned at all by the West Indian batsmen. One after another got a decent start in the first innings of the first Test and before they could make a substantial contribution or build a decent-sized partnership, they found ways to get out on a flat second day pitch.
In addition to being found wanting on the mental aspects of batting, their batsmen were indecisive with their footwork and not entirely sure of their off-stump which led them to misjudgments in playing or leaving a delivery. All of these were quite professionally exploited by the Indian bowlers rolled their opponents over for 100 runs in the second innings and romped home by a margin of 318 runs.
And so, when asked about the playing combination, West Indies captain Jason Holder got to the root of the issue pretty straight: "No matter what eleven we put out there, [the batsmen] have to get some runs." He reiterated the things his batsmen need to do to challenge India in the second Test to have an opportunity to be able to square the series and keep their proud home streak running. "[The batsmen] have got to be decisive; decisive in their footwork and decisive in shot selection. [They need] to trust the preparation, and trust [their] defence and fight through the tough periods."
Holder's advice to his batsmen was to try to stay out as long as possible to make the Indian bowlers bowl third and fourth spells and tire them out under the hot Jamaican sun. West Indies may not have any quick fixes to some of the faltering techniques but they may be served well if they rejig their batting order to allow talented Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmeyer to bat in the top five.
He at least sounded upbeat - if not entirely convincing - about the prospect of rebounding from a bad loss. He pointed to happy memories of beating Bangladesh inside three days last year and battling India for a draw at this venue that would motivate his team to take on India. "All the guys are really up for it. [There is] no point playing tentatively or half-heartedly. We're just gonna come and put up a really good show."
India on the other hand would be mighty relieved that they avoided suffering the consequences of a terrible start to the first Test. They were bailed out by Ajinkya Rahane, who notched up his tenth Test hundred, a first in two years. He received support from KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Hanuma Vihari at various points and India received a boost from Ravindra Jadeja working with the lower order to stretch the first innings score substantially.
Of course, India will be quite aware of their own fragility with the bat and the possibility of Kemar Roach-led Windies attack running through them on what appears to be a spicy track at Sabina Park. Vice-Captain Rahane appearing for the pre-match press conference emphasised India's need to "forget the past and live in the present" and not to take West Indies "lightly" just because India smashed them in the first Test. "West Indies bat deep, and their bowling attack is very good. We won't take them lightly. It is important to respect them but play to our strengths."
Pitch Conditions: A day before the Test, the track at Sabina Park bore a green look with cracks visible. It does not have the sheen that Sabina Park pitches of yore used to have. With temperatures expected to reach highs of 32-33 C every day of the Test, the pitch will be expected to bake under the heat and cracks would likely open, causing immense trouble for batsmen, as the bounce and deviation off the pitch would become unpredictable. Batsmen would be well-advised to get bottom hand insurance and/or employ batting gloves with additional padding. One former cricket correspondent quipped that the pitch has a similar look to the one these two played on in 2006, which saw legendary twin-half centuries from Rahul Dravid that led India to a win in a close thriller.
When: Friday, August 30, 09:30 AM local time (08:00 PM IST)
Where: Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica
Weather: As mentioned earlier, it has been quite hot in Jamaica and scattered thunderstorms are forecast every day of the Test, bringing some relief from the oppressive heat but a pause to the cricket. Thankfully for Jamaica and cricket, Hurricane Dorian is passing well north of Jamaica and is headed for Florida where India's tour to the West Indies began oh-so-long ago.
Toss Decision: Neither team would commit to what they might do if they were to win the toss. In the sixteen Tests at Sabina Park since January 2001, every team that won the toss, chose to bat first except for India in 2002. That decision backfired as Windies openers piled on the runs, and India were soundly defeated by a margin of 155 runs.
West Indies: Keemo Paul has been drafted into the side having recovered from his ankle injury and would be expected to replace Miguel Cummins, who was unimpressive in the first Test. Shamarh Brooks, on his Test debut, looked over-matched against the Indian bowlers but it would be unfair to drop someone after just one Test, having played 12 years of first-class cricket. The other option is to give Antiguan Rahkeem Cornwall the Test cap but his FC average is worse than the mediocre FC average of Brooks.
Probable XI: Jason Holder (c), Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Darren Bravo, Roston Chase, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmeyer, Keemo Paul, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel
India: This is the sort of pitch where Kohli would have liked to avail the services of someone like Hardik Pandya, who could bowl as the third seamer, while India add an extra batsman. However, as it stands, India would be very disinclined to change their playing XI that won so emphatically in Antigua, which means R Ashwin and Rohit Sharma stay on the bench. This would also mean that it would only be the second time under Kohli's captaincy reign that India field the same XI in consecutive Test matches.
Probable XI: Virat Kohli (c), Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
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