x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Series to give idea of what is to come

Plenty of young players will play in the first Test between West Indies and India at Kingston, Jamaica.

It is a contest between cricket's past and present that also promises a glimpse of the future. Time was when a tour of the West Indies was the equivalent of facing Barcelona at Camp Nou. No matter how good or tenacious you were, you invariably succumbed to the swashbucklers from the islands.

In 1962, when Nari Contractor had his skull fractured during a tour game in Barbados, India lost all five Tests.

In 1989, a tour that a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was bitterly disappointed to miss, India were swept aside in three of the four Tests. Again, the rot started at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, an intimidating amphitheatre where the West Indies were unbeaten between 1935 and 1994.

The second Test of the current three-match series, which starts today in Jamaica, will be played there, but these days, neither the venue nor the team that represents a once-mighty sporting tradition holds much terror.

Since ambushing England in Jamaica two years ago, the West Indies have slid still further. The unending conflict between the board and the players' association — a recent meeting to discuss Chris Gayle saw representatives nearly come to blows — has hardly helped and it is a side full of youthful promise that takes on India at Sabina Park.

They will undoubtedly miss the man who averages more than 50 in the Test arena over the past three years.

Against an attack lacking Zaheer Khan and with Munaf Patel also doubtful, Gayle could have been a match-winner. But with the board seemingly intent on taking an axe to its own toe, the focus now shifts to a new generation.

Lendl Simmons, Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo have plenty of talent, but even with his spearhead missing, MS Dhoni, the India captain, is canny enough to prey on their inexperience of the big stage.

Much will depend on the experienced Guyanese duo of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, both of whom have scored heavily against India in the past.

There is also the returning Marlon Samuels. Once one of the game's most exciting new faces, he has lost almost a decade to a poor attitude and bad company. But no Indian who watched a gorgeous 73-ball one-day century in 2002 will make the mistake of taking him lightly.

But for being around better role models, India's Virat Kohli might have ended up another Samuels - all swagger and little substance. At one stage three years ago, the acclaim that came with leading the Under 19s to a world title seemed to have gone to his head.

But his senior players and coaches - Ray Jennings, who looks after him at Royal Challengers Bangalore, once told him bluntly, in rather stronger terms, that "no one cares what you won at Under 19 level" - hauled him back into line.

His one-day career so far has been marked by impressive maturity. Today, he should get the Test cap that his late father so badly wanted for him.

Along with Kohli, Abhinav Mukund, the Tamil Nadu opener who has enjoyed a couple of prolific seasons in the Ranji Trophy, should also make his debut.

The need for a left-hander in the middle order should ensure that Suresh Raina gets another bite at the Test cherry ahead of Subramaniam Badrinath, a domestic titan who hasn't quite cracked the international code.

India won a low-scoring game at Sabina Park on their last tour to seal the series, and it will be interesting to see how a patchwork bowling attack does on a fast pitch.

The West Indies, while relying on the leg spin wiles of Devendra Bishoo, will trust in pace to rattle India's cage. Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul will be joined by Fidel Edwards, whose speedy deliveries will offer a reminder of a time when the maroon cap dwarfed all others.