The first Test against West Indies at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua will mark the beginning of India’s ICC Test Championship campaign. The number one Test side led by Virat Kohli now has an added incentive to not just top the rankings but to win the Test Championship. India has not lost a single match on the tour. As they head into the longest format of the game, let’s take a look at the five Indian players whose performance will be followed closely in the two Tests.
The standout performer in India’s First Class circuit, Mayank Agarwal, proved himself at the big stage with two half-centuries in three innings during India’s tour of Australia in 2018-19. So far Agarwal has accumulated 195 runs from three innings at an average of 65. With KL Rahul not performing up to the mark in the practice match against West Indies A, the team management will look at him as India’s answer to opening woes in Tests.
The 28-year-old has scored 148 runs from six innings on his Caribbean tour (playing for India A and the recently-concluded practice game). The Karnataka batsman has managed to score only one half-century (81 runs from 134 deliveries). Despite the ordinary show, he is likely to open the innings. There might be a few signs of rustiness early on as Agarwal returns to the international arena after a big gap of eight months.
Hanuma Vihari got back in form at the right time. Vihari was struggling in the Caribbean conditions in the List A matches and the first two unofficial Tests against West Indies A. His scores were 31, 19, 0, 1 in the first two encounters. However, a century and two half-centuries in the last two games have made him an exciting prospect to watch.
The selectors will have a hard time selecting the playing XI with Vihari delivering in the middle order. There might be a toss-up between him, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. His Test average of 23.85 in four matches does not do justice to the grit he has shown on English and Australian soils. Further, he can also pitch in with a few overs and can break partnerships with his off-spin while giving frontline bowlers a breather.
It will be a shame if the Indian think tank does not cash in on Rohit Sharma’s recent success in white-ball cricket. Rohit was in sublime form in World Cup 2019 scoring a record five centuries. The Mumbai batsman can serve as a game-changer in the middle order. He scored a half-century against West Indies A in the three-day practice game which can work in his favour when the final XI is selected.
Rishabh Pant is on thin ice given his recent shot selections on the Caribbean tour. Despite his inexperience and poor show in the ODIs, Pant is likely to feature in the playing XI of the first Test. An average of 49.71 with two centuries in England and Australia are likely to make Virat Kohli give him one more chance on the tour before replacing him with Wriddhiman Saha, a wicketkeeper-batsman who performed reasonably well on the last Caribbean tour.
Ishant Sharma is India’s second-most successful fast bowler in West Indies after Kapil Dev (35 wickets). Sharma’s tally stands at 30 wickets from seven matches. The tall lanky fast bowler has a better bowling average (20.93) than any Indian bowler with eight or more wickets in the West Indies. Ishant picked up three wickets in the first innings of the practice game and is likely to feature in the playing XI for the first Test.