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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

India favourites in Dominica's Test debut

Cricinfo Preview by Nitin Sundar

Match facts
July 6-10, Dominica
Start time 1000 (1400 GMT, 1930 IST)

An interesting picture of Harbhajan Singh in his delivery stride, West Indies v India, 1st Test, Kingston, 2nd day, June 21, 2011
Does Harbhajan have it in him to face the reality of his form slump? © AFP
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Big Picture
India are 1-0 up with one to play, and with better weather might have sealed the series in Barbados, but the scoreline obscures some worrying realities. In four innings they have not once reached 300, that despite inordinate contributions from the old firm of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. India's IPL generation, with the notable exception of Suresh Raina, has stumbled in what is arguably the easiest overseas assignment a Test side can currently hope for. It is a cause for some concern, considering the inevitable change of guard the middle-order will go through in the next couple of years.
The story is inverted in the bowling department: the youngsters have pulled their weight, while the spearhead hasn't. Praveen Kumar has impressively transferred his seam mastery to the red ball; Ishant Sharma has banished the pain of two seasons of under-achievement, with a series of sparkling spells from which there should be no turning back. Harbhajan Singh, however, has slipped into a comfort zone - both for himself and the batsmen facing him. There is a chance he will not reach the 400-wicket milestone in the Caribbean, despite having needed only seven wickets to get there at the start of the series.
After the crushing disappointment in Jamaica, West Indies have plenty of positives to take out of Barbados. Fidel Edwards, on a comeback trail, is a work in progress, but there was enough evidence to suggest he is close to the finished product. Ravi Rampaul and Devendra Bishoo have stuck to the task, rarely allowing India's line-up to dictate terms. The problem for the hosts, though, lies in the batting and there were signs of improvement in Barbados. Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo - two players who exemplify the flamboyance of Caribbean batsmanship - showed they have the ability to grind out innings. It is a crucial step forward, given Ramnaresh Sarwan's alarming decline, Chris Gayle's continued absence and the drop in Shivnarine Chanderpaul's once-immense powers. Can Lendl Simmons and Adrian Barath follow the example set by Bravo and Samuels? If the openers continue to wobble against the new ball, expect India to make it 2-0 without much strife.
Form guide (most recent first)
India: DWDWL
West Indies: DLLWD
In the spotlight
MS Dhoni has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. His comment on umpiring standards in the first Test may have hastened Daryl Harper's retirement. Dhoni's batting has been an advertisement for shoddy shot-selection, and his drop of Carlton Baugh in the final session in Barbados potentially cost India a win. To make matters worse, his bowlers maintained such poor over-rates that he is now one infringement away from a match ban. His captaincy has, however, remained sharp judging by his field settings and the enterprising declaration in Barbados. Can Dhoni make a significant contribution as a player in Dominica?
Ravi Rampaul may not have the natural talent of the men who set the Caribbean ablaze in the 1980s, but he has heart and discipline - both crucial ingredients for a side seeking a revival. Rampaul's skidding action combines well with his tendency to whip the ball in, short of a length, almost inevitably on the seam. In his last four Tests, he has struck in his first over in four innings, a stat that makes him a nightmare for top-order batsmen.
The doosra is a thing of the past. The floater he mastered in the pre-doosra years has fizzled into a poorly disguised topspinner that doesn't trouble set batsmen. The bounce is sporadic, the flight and loop conspicuous by their absence, the turn is not sharp and the drift is harmless in the absence of the other factors. After 95 Tests, and in his 14th year of international cricket, Harbhajan Singh finds himself stuck in a dangerous cycle of under-achievement, perhaps ushered in by over-exposure to the shorter formats. He has the tenacity to rediscover his magic, but the first step to redemption will be admitting that he is in a slump. Does Harbhajan have it in him to confront reality?
Team news
Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar were involved in a minor collision while playing football in a training session, but both should be fit to play. Dhoni has a few tricky decisions to make ahead of the toss. Abhimanyu Mithun's honest but underwhelming effort in Barbados, coupled with the over-rate threat, could tempt him to bring legspinner Amit Mishra back, unless the pitch is unduly grassy. M Vijay and Virat Kohli have had poor series, and have subsequently lost their spots for the England tour. Will they be motivated enough to perform in the decider? Or will India be better served using Parthiv Patel and S Badrinath, who will be fresh, and eager to prove a point since they aren't in the England squad either?
India (probable): 1 Abhinav Mukund, 2 M Vijay, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 VVS Laxman, 5 Virat Kohli / S Badrinath, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Abhimanyu Mithun / Amit Mishra
With their new-ball pair working so well, West Indies may once again choose to bench Kemar Roach. Kieran Powell will make his Test debut at the pivotal No. 3 spot, but he can do no worse than the disastrously out of form Sarwan, whose place he takes.
West Indies (probable): 1 Adrian Barath, 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Kieran Powell, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Marlon Samuels, 7 Carlton Baugh (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Ravi Rampaul, 10 Fidel Edwards / Kemar Roach, 11 Devendra Bishoo
Pitch and conditions
The Windsor Park at Roseau, Dominica, is set to become Test cricket's 106th venue. It has been more than a year since the ground hosted the last of its four ODIs - a high-scoring thriller involving South Africa and West Indies. The more accessible - and given the happenings in Barbados, more crucial - variable is the weather, and the forecasts aren't promising: showers are predicted on each of the five days of the Test. The curator, though, says the ground has excellent drainage facilities.
The curator and West Indies captain Darren Sammy have both said there will be bounce in the pitch. There was a four-day match played at the venue between England Lions and Windward Islands in March in which two left-arm spinners - Gary Mathurin of the hosts and Danny Briggs of the visitors - shared 19 of the 39 wickets to fall in the match. The seamers got carry and bounce from the pitch in that match, which produced a result early on the fourth day.
Stats and trivia
  • India have never won two Tests in a series in the West Indies. Excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, they have not won more than one Test in an away series since Pakistan in 2004
  • Harbhajan Singh is now two wickets away from becoming the third Indian bowler and 11th overall to reach 400 wickets
  • Shivnarine Chanderpaul averages 33.00 so far in 2011, the lowest he has averaged in any single year since 2001
"His body position used to force his grip to change. Now he's more upright, and his wrist is in a better position. Only when you are confident about the technique and start bowling at the pace you are capable of, can you be at your best."
Eric Simons is pleased with the changes in Ishant Sharma's action, and the consequent results
"I have played four tours here and these have been some of the toughest tracks I have faced. Guys will learn a lot from this experience."
Rahul Dravid has words of encouragement for India's misfiring young brigade
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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