Analysing whether West Indies series will help Team India ahead of Australia tour
We are not even halfway through the first Test match between India and West Indies at Rajkot. The debate has already started as to whether a Test series with West Indies will help India achieve a rare Test series win in Australia.
Though India lost the previous series against England badly, there was a lot of exciting cricket witnessed. Except for the second Test match at Lord’s, the other four Test matches were closely fought encounters.
The same kind of competitive cricket cannot be expected when one team is below par. Though it is premature to make assumptions, all and sundry know what is expected to take place in the current series. Even hardcore Indian cricket fans tend to stay away from such lopsided matches.
In this article, we will examine the prudence of hosting a series against the depleted West Indies just before a tough tour of Australia.
How is the home series against West Indies different from the Australian tour?
Conditions – The conditions in India are totally different from the conditions Down Under. Australian wickets are expected to be more sporting with a lot of pace and bounce to encourage strokes. At the same time, there will always be something in it for the fast bowlers to exploit. Even the spinners enjoy the bounce on the Australian wickets.
Compare that with the slow and low pitches of India, the Indian batsmen don’t gain anything new by way of experience to equip themselves with the technique to face Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
Team composition - In home conditions, India prefer to go with 3 spinners and 2 fast bowlers. But the entire dynamics will change in Australia where India may go in with an extra batsman to shore up the middle-order. In such a scenario, India may find themselves playing with four bowlers, three fast bowlers and one spinner. A good spinner like Kuldeep Yadav might become redundant. That was exactly what happened in England.
Mindset of the players - In home conditions against a depleted team like the West Indies, the Indian players will be quite relaxed. They know they are the superior team and even a rare failure from one of the players, as it happened in the case of K.L. Rahul, will not upset the apple-cart.
Conversely, in Australia, the Indians would be compelled to play the catch-up game against a much superior team. The enormous challenge to succeed might make or break a player. Success would be hard to come by and the players should show a lot of patience and perseverance in alien conditions. The Indian batsmen and the spinners should have a lot of temperament to succeed in Australia.
When the West Indies toured India last time in 2013, they played two Test matches and were duly thrashed in both the matches. Rohit Sharma made his debut in that series and scored two centuries in his first two Test matches. All the India players were high on confidence.
Immediately after the lackluster West Indies series, India toured South Africa where the conditions were totally different. Suddenly the Indian batsmen started to struggle and the spinners were not even in the scheme of things. Someone like an R. Ashwin, who had a bucket full of wickets in the West Indies series, went wicket-less in the first Test at Johannesburg after bowling 42 overs.
Ashwin was dropped for the second Test at Durban. South Africa won that Durban Test by 10 wickets and with that, the series 1-0.
That series in South Africa showed to the Indian team that the quantum of runs scored or wickets taken in home conditions count for very little. More so, in the case of tours to Australia, South Africa or England.
The better alternative
Based on past experience, the BCCI could have planned better and restricted the West Indies series to one-day matches and T20s only. That would have provided some entertainment to the fans as the Windies are a totally different team in white ball cricket. India could have fielded a strong team consisting of one-day specialists with Rohit Sharma at the helm of affairs. The BCCI could have added few more one-day matches to the itinerary ahead of the World Cup next year.
Team India could have stayed away from this dull Test series against the West Indies. The core of the Indian Test team could have travelled to Australia much earlier to get acclimatized to the conditions. A couple more practice matches in Australia could have helped the Indian team face the Australian challenge better.
In their previous overseas series in South Africa and England, India didn’t opt for practice matches which had a telling effect on the outcome.
In the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, India have an outside chance of winning a series in Australia. But the big question on everyone’s mind is whether the current West Indies series will facilitate that objective.