New Delhi : It is not yet India’s GenNext team, only injuries forced the selectors to inject fresh blood in the bowling attack. Still, the focus in the first Test against the West Indies, starting here Sunday, will be on Sachin Tendulkar, who will be looking for his 100th international hundred.
India will also be out to recover the lost ground, having been dislodged from the No.1 perch in Tests during a harrowing English summer. Now placed third in the Test pecking order, they would like to use the three-match series against world No.7 the West Indies as a first step in their bid to regain the status of numero uno they enjoyed for over two years.
The visitors are enjoying their new-found confidence, having registered their first win overseas in eight years last weekend at Mirpur, Bangladesh, and think they have the wherewithal to challenge the Indians.
The new-look Indian attack has a the big job of getting 20 wickets to win a Test. At 23, Ishant Sharma is spearheading the pace attack with two others, Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav, who are barely into their 20s. Ishant himself has just crossed the hundred-wicket mark in Tests.
With Harbhajan struggling to find a wicket even in a Ranji Trophy game, Ravichandran Ashwin, who has 35 wickets from 21 one-dayers, will be out to prove that he is good enough to be playing in the longer format and share the spin burden with left-armer Pragyan Ojha. Rahul Sharma, a leg-spinner in Kumble mould, would also like to show his mettle if given the opportunity.
Rahul’s chances brightened after India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said Saturday that two-three players may make their debut in the match. Yadav is likely to earn his Test cap ahead of Aaron, who picked up three wickets on debut in the ODIs against England.
“I also hope that we can see two-three players making their debut in this match,” said Dhoni,” adding that it was time for the team to look ahead and not think about the past.
As for batting, Yuvraj Singh has made it clear that he is keen on settling as a serious Test player. He knows Virat Kohli cannot be kept out for long and Ajinkya Rahane is not far off as a top-order bat.
All the youngsters know that success in the series will take them to Australia on a crucial tour. Importantly, they all realise all the other contenders like Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Manoj Tiwary got big hundreds in their first matches of the Ranji Trophy season.
The return of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj, all from injuries, gives batting a solid look with Dhoni already being in good touch.
The India captain doesn’t want to look beyond the series against the West Indies, saying the tour Down Under is too far.
“We have a good and tough competitive series on hand. West Indies have done well in Bangladesh and we are not looking beyond this series,” he said.
Dhoni also said the track at the Kotla will not start turning from Day One and spinners will only get some help as the match progresses.
The win in Bangladesh, the drawn series with Pakistan and a tough series against India, which they lost 0-1 at home earlier in the year, make West Indies look a team on a comeback trail. Their stay in Bangladesh helped them acclimatise to the sub-continent conditions. West Indies coach Ottis Gibson said the mood in the dressing room has changed after the win in Bangladesh.
“The talk in our dressing room has been that of development. We have started to build. We are a developing side, a young side and the atmosphere is positive. A lot of young players are doing well. We expect a tough fight but we are ready for it,” he said.
The former fast bowler backed his pace attack to do well in the series. He wants young leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, whose maiden five-wicket haul in the second Test gave their side the series win in Bangladesh, to look at the series as a learning experience.
The West Indies batting will depend a lot on the veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul, young Darren Bravo, who hit his maiden Test century at Mirpur, and comeback man Marlon Samuels.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain-wicketkeeper), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Gautam Gambhir, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Pragyan Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rahul Sharma, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron
West Indies: Darren Sammy (captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh (wk), Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Fidel Edwards, Kirk Edwards, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and Rod Tucker (Australia)
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)