The Indian team enjoyed an off day here in a bid to brush off the disappointment of not winning the second Test in Jamaica from a commanding position.
The gap between the second and the third Test here is unusually long for an overseas trip, six days, and the visitors took this time to recuperate from the hot and humid conditions endured in Antigua and Kingston.
Given the hectic travel schedule of the Indian team, and the fact that they will be playing near endless cricket until June next year, the BCCI had planned this itinerary in such a manner. Usually, there is only a three-day gap between Tests on tour, but the players will definitely not mind this additional time.
Anil Kumble has brought in a new training regime on the tour, with long sessions to start off with whenever they arrive at a new destination, followed by optional practice the next day to cool off a bit. Then the entire squad returns to the nets a day before the Test, and gets into gear for battle. This was the trend followed in St. Kitts, Antigua and Jamaica, and it is expected to be so in St. Lucia as well.
It puts some spotlight on the team management’s efforts to make sure that the key players are fit and healthy for the long season ahead, with another 15 Tests to go. Top of this list is Mohammed Shami, who has just returned to international cricket after nearly 18 months.
Previously, his workload was too high, playing even dead rubbers at times. Not to mention, going full tilt in practice also hinders fast bowlers. It resulted in his knee breaking down during the 2015 World Cup, and only after a tough and lengthy recovery period, he has managed to return to the first-choice eleven.
“Coming back after 18 months is not easy. It’s not easy for a fast bowler after an injury, and I am really pleased that he has comeback. He is an important cog for us. We don’t want to look too far ahead but the workload is something we are aware of,” said Kumble after the second Test.
“In the last Test in Antigua the bowlers bowled back to back. So we try and take workload in training sessions with respect to what happened in the match. So far it has worked really well and I am really happy for Shami that he has come back really well. He is important to us.
“I think he feels a lot stronger now and his rhythm has been good. The problem was with his knee, which was affecting his run up. Once that was sorted and he was fit, came back was okay then. Fast bowling is all about rhythm and the run up. Once he got the rhythm I think the confidence came back. We have seen from the start of the Antigua Test to now, his confidence is far greater,” the coach added.
Workload though is only one aspect. At the start of the series, skipper Virat Kohli had pointed out that he had a specific first-choice eleven in mind, and that others in the squad would get a chance when the time is right. But he had also added afterwards that a near-perfect innings’ victory didn’t allow him room enough for chopping and changing. That has now changed, with West Indies fighting for a draw in the second Test.
Never mind that a lot of overs were lost due to rain on days three and four, a five-pronged bowling attack including the Test no.1 bowler should have taken six wickets in three sessions on a day five pitch. The superlative Roston Chase hundred asides, this ought to have been the viewpoint in the dressing room in Jamaica, and the think-tank will surely look at what went wrong.
One possible aspect they could lack at is the line bowled by their pacers to keep things tight. In light of the pitch getting easier to bat on, they wanted to restrict the scoring pace whilst restricting scoring and attack with spinners at the same time. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s style not entirely suited to conditions here, and Shardul Thakur a complete green horn, disturbing the pace combination might not be a good choice.
Amit Mishra disappointed in the second innings, and thus Kohli might want to opt for Ravindra Jadeja in the third Test. The left-arm spinner is someone who not only bowls economically irrespective of the format, but also bowls a consistent stump-to-stump line and makes the batsmen play a lot more. He has bowled well off late, and could be in line to return to the Test eleven, depending on conditions prevalent in St. Lucia of course.
At the start of the tour, West Indies’ selector Courtney Walsh had pointed out that the wicket at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium was the quickest of the Caribbean lot at present. As such, the hosts will be hoping to strive for consistency, if not challenge the Indians who still lead the four-match series 1-0.
Meanwhile, Walsh and his colleagues have included Barbados opener Shai Hope into the 14-man squad for the third Test. He will replace Rajendra Chandrika, who crossed the 20-mark only once in four innings so far, and has the lowest average (14.00) of any West Indies’ opener with more than 10 innings.
Hope is a keeper-batsman, as he displayed in the second practice game against India in St. Kitts. More importantly, though, he had scored 118* in the first practice game at the same ground.