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Match Preview - West Indies vs India, ICC World Test Championship 2019, 1st Test | ESPNcricinfo.com

Aug 20, 2019Big picture

In 2016, India came to the West Indies and won a four-match Test series 2-0. Had rain not washed away an entire day's play in Jamaica, and all but 22 overs in Trinidad, they might very well have won 4-0.

Despite the one-sidedness of the result, there were signs that West Indies was putting together a new crop of bankable players. The lower-middle-order trio of Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder came together to deny India a win at Sabina Park, and in the next Test in St Lucia, a pace-oriented bowling attack containing a new face in Alzarri Joseph reduced India to 126 for 5 on day one.

Some of the players who made their debuts or first major impressions in that series have gone on to become mainstays, and others, new and old, have joined them to form what is now a fairly settled Test line-up. The results have followed; since that series, West Indies have won six out of 11 Tests at home - most recently beating England 2-1 - and have also picked up away wins against Pakistan and England.

When India begin the Test leg of their West Indies tour on Thursday, they'll know they're facing a better team than the one they beat in 2016 - particularly in the Caribbean, where their fast bowlers are backed up by the Dukes ball and seaming tracks with steep or inconsistent bounce. Where Tests in the West Indies not too long ago were attritional contests on slow pitches, they are now short, bruising duels featuring regular collapses.

But if this template has brought West Indies Test wins at home in the last three years, it's also brought them losses - to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England. India - who have just emerged from a grueling run of away tours that culminated in a first-ever Test series win in Australia - are a better team than any of those three.

When England toured the West Indies earlier this year, for instance, they had three clear weaknesses - top-order batting, spin bowling, and - until Mark Wood came in for the third and final Test - genuinely quick bowling. India are more or less covered in all those areas, and in pretty much every other area.

Where India have rested key players on previous tours of the West Indies - 2011, most notably - they've brought a full-strength squad this time. This, after all, is their first appearance in the World Test Championship.

This, therefore, will be West Indies' biggest test in a while. Their batsmen and bowlers will be called on to maintain their discipline and intensity for longer periods, and solve puzzles that other teams haven't posed them. We know West Indies are a better team than they were in 2016; this series will show us how good they are.

Form guide

West Indies: LWWLL (last five Tests, most recent first)India: DWLWW

Jason Holder celebrates a wicket Associated PressIn the spotlight

When India were here last, Jason Holder showed promise on every front, but his Test averages - 27.12 and 48.09, the wrong way around - made it plain that he wasn't yet a good enough batsman to command a top-six slot, or a good enough bowler to take the new ball or bowl first-change. Since then, he's transformed himself into one of the world's top allrounders, with the numbers to match. In his last 20 Tests, he has averaged 39.46 with the bat, and 21.38 with the ball, and captaincy has rested so a whole lot easier on his shoulders. If the pitches in this Test series produce low-scoring cricket, Holder could make the same kind of impact against India that Sam Curran did in England last year.

Seventeen wickets at 23.17, two five-wicket hauls, 235 runs at 58.75, two hundreds. R Ashwin had the series of his life when he toured the West Indies in 2016, but he has lately struggled with injury, and has had to miss four of India's last five away Tests. India's other spin options aren't too bad either, and so, incredibly, Ashwin might not be an automatic starter. He's come through plenty of challenges in the past; how will he handle this one?

Team news

Keemo Paul, the 21-year-old seam-bowling allrounder, has been ruled out of the first Test due to an injury to his left ankle. Fast bowler Miguel Cummins, who made his Test debut against India three years ago in Jamaica, has replaced Paul.

The pitch could well determine whether West Indies play four fast bowlers - in which case they pick Cummins - or three, and hand the offspin-bowling allrounder Rahkeem Cornwall a Test debut.

West Indies: 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 John Campbell, 3 Shai Hope, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Roston Chase, 7 Shane Dowrich, 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Rahkeem Cornwall/Miguel Cummins, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel

On the eve of the match, Virat Kohli said India would take a decision on their bowling attack after having a look at the pitch. "It's more or less a choice between three quicks and a spinner, and two quicks and two spinners," he said, perhaps ruling out the possibility that India could play three quicks and two spinners, and only five specialist batsmen.

India: 1 KL Rahul, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma/Hanuma Vihari, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 R Ashwin/Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Pitch and conditions

West Indies' fast bowlers have enjoyed themselves at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium over the last couple of years, Kemar Roach in particular. He picked up five wickets when West Indies blasted out Bangladesh for 43 here in 2018, and four in each innings when they dismissed England for 187 and 132 earlier this year.

On the eve of the India Test, the pitch had a scattering of grassy patches on the good-length areas as well as a few damp-looking spots. Jason Holder called it a "bowl-first wicket". Exactly how much help there is for the quicks remains to be seen, given that the pitch received a demerit point and a "below average" rating after the England Test. The weather in Antigua is expected to be cloudy, with showers forecast on day three.

Stats and trivia

Should Ravindra Jadeja be India's first-choice spinner? Maybe. Since India's last tour of the West Indies, he's been the world's best allrounder in terms of difference between batting and bowling averages (21.15). He's taken his wickets at a slightly better average (23.84) than R Ashwin (25.74) and scored his runs at a far better average (45.00 vs 23.64).

Among bowlers with a minimum of 50 wickets in the same period, Kemar Roach (42.8) and Shannon Gabriel (46.6) are among the top six in terms of strike rate, with Jason Holder (50.0) not far behind.

Holder is seven wickets away from 100 in Test cricket, while Mohammed Shami needs six wickets to reach 150, and Jasprit Bumrah one to reach 50.

Quotes

"When you have points to gain, when you're working towards something, then every match becomes that much more important. It's going to bring in more competition, more requirement of concentration, precise cricket, a lot of discipline as well. I think the Test Championship and the format that it brings with it is going to take the standard of Test cricket higher."India captain Virat Kohli on the impact of the World Test Championship

GMT 0334 The article was updated with the news of Cummins replacing Paul.

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