Updated: July 9, 2016 12:02:13 pm
Based on photographic evidence alone, it looks like the Indian team have spent the opening few days of their tour doing what most visitors do upon arriving in the Caribbean. They’ve been out and about, incessantly soaking in the West Indian sun and getting the feel of the soft sand underneath their feet in Basetterre, the capital of the tear-drop shaped island of St Kitts.
Apart from demanding that you be outdoors at all times, it’s also a part of the world that coaxes you into letting the hair down, maybe even be a tad uninhibited.
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Probably that’s the reason why for once even the most protected team in world cricket has decided to allow the rest of the world a candid look at their life on tour. The pictures that have expectedly gone viral not only show Virat Kohli & Co performing some intense yoga drills on the hotel lawn, they also have them in the midst of a game of beach volleyball — of all sports — with some of them, the captain included, not shy of baring their rather chiseled upper torsos. To boot, they have also released a video where Stuart Binny — an understandable choice considering his wife’s a seasoned TV presenter — is seen telling us about the team’s movements so far and trying his best to commentate on his teammates’ sand-inspired indulgence. Another photo shows Kohli, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan looking very satisfied after what looks to have been a sumptuous meal.
To the Indian Test captain’s credit, uninhibited is a term that can confidently also be used for the type of cricket his young team have played since he took over last year. They came from behind to beat the spirited Sri Lankans in their backyard before opting for a much-debated ploy of spin-oriented wickets to derail the South Africans at home. Now they are looking at an extended Test season at home where they will play 13 Tests against the who’s who of world cricket. It’s ironic then that the prelude to that brings them to the farthest cricket destination for an Indian team.
On Saturday, they begin the cricket segment of their 52-day long tour with a two-day warm-up game against West Indies Board President’s XI at the Warner Park Cricket Stadium. And a day earlier, they assembled at the same venue for their first of many practice sessions on tour.
Warming up for the grind
Two-day practice matches are anyway nothing more than glorified practice sessions with the visiting team getting a chance to dedicate a day each for their batsmen and bowlers respectively to get acclimatized. And it’s likely that the Indians will treat this game in a similar vein, and try to be more competitive in their second warm-up game, which will be a three-day affair at the same ground a week later. As it turns out, it will be a chance to acclimatize for a number of players in the opposition line-up as well over the weekend.
For the West Indian selection committee, with their newly-appointed chairman Courtney Browne, have opted for a team that has six players with Test records, five of whom have been part of the West Indian playing XI on multiple occasions over the past 12 months. The team will be led by Guyanese left-hander Leon Johnson, who surprisingly has found himself on the sidelines, despite having made a very good first impression at the highest level unlike many of the others who have since played Tests and are part of the President’s XI.
While the likes of Rajendra Chandrika and Shai Hope average below 20 and still find themselves in the mix, Johnson’s Test average presently stands at 39.28 and he was the leading run-scorer in this year’s domestic first-class competition, averaging 57.64. At a time when the West Indian Test line-up is desperately missing the services of a legendary Guyanese left-hander that it turned its back on, the time is perfect for Johnson to stake a serious claim in the middle-order or even as opener — considering he scored 66 and 41 when he opened against Bangladesh.
Johnson apart, the other five were all on the ill-fated tour to Australia, West Indies’ last Test series, where they were utterly humiliated. And much like the Indians, it will be a good chance for Chandrika, Hope and Shane Dowrich — the Barbados wicket-keeper batsman expected to take over the gloves from Denesh Ramdin in the Tests — to get a crucial sneak-peek at the bowlers they will be facing over the next month-and-a-half.
That they are pretty much all the West Indian selectors have to pick from for the Test line-up is a fair indicator of why their Test team languishes at eighth on the table presently, making the visitors favourites despite their Test team coming together for the first time since December last year.
Big boys play CPL
While the second-string West Indians look to get an early taste of the Indians at Basetterre, the more high-profile West Indians are busy being the flavour of the CPL season elsewhere in the Caribbean. The Indians might be all set to get used to their whites again, but a number of big names they shared IPL dressing-rooms with only a month ago are still to get off the T20 caravan in 2016.
Only three days ago AB de Villiers and Kieron Pollard were at Warner Park, smashing Barbados Tridents to a fabulous finish. The ground has been the scene for a number of high scores in the CPL this season, and it’ll be a good pitch for the Indian batsmen to get into their grooves. Maybe some of the batsmen will be happy that their own team management will not have any say in how the pitches are prepared. It will also be a good challenge for the Indian bowlers to get used to conditions that are unlikely to make life easy for them.
The first Test will be held at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, another ground known for its fondness for batsmen and runs. West Indies Test captain Jason Holder had scored his maiden Test ton the last time a game was held there, with the home team holding off a resurgent England last year. And it will be a good batting wicket even when India get there in the third week of July. And having already gotten themselves in sync with the West Indian way of life off the field, Kohli and his young army will now set their eyes to soaking in the Caribbean sun on the field.
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