Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Tony Becca | Another series, but the same old story

Published:Sunday | October 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
India's Kuldeep Yadav (centre) celebrates with teammates after dismissing West Indies' Roston Chase (right) during the third day of the first Test in Rajkot, India.
India's Prithvi Shaw celebrates his century during the first day of the first Test match between India and West Indies in Rajkot, India.
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The two-match Test series between the West Indies, or The Windies, and India is done and dusted, and it is not surprising that India cruised to an easy and fairly comfortable 2-0 victory.

What was surprising about India's victory was the ease with which they achieved it, despite resting so many of their better players and despite the call that more should have been rested.

In winning the first Test by a massive innings and 272 runs and the second Test by an equally convincing 10 wickets, both inside three days, India emphasised their superiority over the West Indies, completely dominating one and recovering gloriously to win the other one.

From the second over of the first Test to the early end of the Test match it was a no-contest in Rajkot as India, despite losing a wicket in the first over, rattled up 649 for nine declared at tea on the second day before blowing away the West Indies, who 'recovered' from an embarrassing 74 for six to a paltry and embarrassing 181 and 196.

Action in the second Test, however, was more or less a horse of a different colour, although India shrugged off some early disappointments in an amazing dash to victory.

India used the occasion not only to prepare for Australia but also to parade their strength, albeit before almost empty stadiums in Rajkot and in Hyderabad.

In winning the first Test match, India not only blew away the timid, weak, and careless West Indies batsmen, who, despite a few lovely strokes, looked out of their depth while committing errors after errors, but with Jason Holder and Kemar Roach missing in action, they also flayed the West Indies bowling mercilessly.

The second Test match was somewhat different and begged the question, just what is wrong with West Indies cricket, or the players, why the players perform in such mercurial manner, why they run so hot and cold a few times, or so cold and hot most times?

While they played like rank amateurs in Rajkot, for part of one batting innings and for part of one bowling innings in Hyderabad, the West Indies batted and bowled like professionals, and brilliantly so. They batted as if they knew how to bat and bowled as if they knew how to bowl, or what to do, and what not to do.

They played as if they knew how to score runs and to how take wickets in Test cricket, and against good bowlers and good batsmen.

After winning the toss and deciding to bat, the West Indies fell away before Roston Chase, 106, and Jason Holder, 52, produced some intelligent and good batting to get them to 311, before, with India riding high on 304 for four, Holder produced a memorable spell and sent India crashing to 367.

 

PAYING THE PENALTY

 

The hope of something special was short-lived, however, as fast bowler Umesh Yadav, operating on a good pitch, picked up four wickets to accompany his six in the first innings to destroy the West Indies for a meagre 127 in their second innings.

The batsmen were apparently in a desperate haste throughout the series, mostly swinging and paying the penalty. It was the sort of batting which is not expected, or recommended, especially when facing huge targets or when trying to save a match.

What was really disappointing about the West Indies display, however, was that it was nothing unusual.

It appeared that the West Indies batsmen preferred to attack than to defend simply because they had no confidence in their defensive play, or in their technical ability to defend, especially against the spinning ball.

The West Indies batted for 48 and 50.5 overs in Rajkot, and in Hyderabad, they batted for 46.1 overs in the second innings. They also lost 14 wickets in two sessions and a bit in Rajkot, and were eventually dismissed twice while batting from tea on the second day to a few minutes after tea on the third day in what was their second heaviest defeat in Test cricket.

In Hyderabad, they also lost 10 wickets in under two sessions.

The West Indies' batting was disappointing, even according to the West Indies camp, and shocking, according to India's spin bowler, Ravi Ashwin.

The batsmen, almost all of them, batted carelessly, attacked when they should have defended, playing across the line of the ball, getting out caught in the deep, in the covers, or at midwicket, and getting out, making rash strokes, close to the intervals.

 

A star is probably born

 

As disappointing as the West Indies performance was, however, India's performance was promising, very promising.

Apart from the confident batting of 21-year-old wicketkeeper Risbah Pant in the first and second Test, India paraded a batting prodigy in Prithvi Shaw, who reeled off a fluent 134 off 154 deliveries with 19 fours in the first Test, 70 in the second Test, and seemed destined to become one of India's top batsmen, a la Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

The 18-year-old from Mumbai, the boy who, at age 14, scored 546 runs off 330 deliveries with 85 fours and five sixes in a school match, who captained India's 2018 world youth champions while displaying his skills as a batsman, who, after only 14 first-class matches starting in 2017, scored seven centuries, including centuries for India 'A' against the West Indies 'A' and South Africa 'A', stroked 134 in his debut Test match with 100 runs coming off 99 deliveries.

He also scored 120 runs in his first first-class match, a Ranji Trophy encounter, played also at Rajkot against Tamil Nadu last year.

Shaw is now India's youngest batsmen ever to score a century on debut and the third youngest in the world.

From the moment Shaw walked out, confidently took first strike, and stroked the third delivery of the day into the covers for three runs until he was dismissed at 232 for three, he was confidence personified while stroking the ball elegantly, mostly off the back foot.

Young Shaw was fortunate: the pitches were good and the bowling was wayward, except for one lovely spell.

His composure in all his three innings was good; however, so was his stroke play, his desire and his ability to score quickly.

Is he destined for the top drawer, is he another Gavaskar or Tendulkar? Only time, and performance against a good, probing, and hostile pace attack will tell.

Although they met against Pakistan only recently, Australia, with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins operating on fast, bouncy pitches, are waiting. Right now, however, Prithvi Shaw seems set to entertain the world and to join the top rank of India's batsmen. He has the stamp.