Kolkata: Delhi was a perfect summation of why West Indies weren't expected to add to India's tally of two home losses in six years. It was the third instance this year of West Indies losing a Test despite keeping the opposition to under 300 in their first innings. To put it in perspective, India have taken nine years to lose three Tests after dismissing sides for under 300. West Indies aren't a team incapable of surprising India, but Test matches aren't won on surprise alone.
In the first Tests of both series between these sides, West Indies have managed to shock India, reducing them to 85 for 6 on the first morning at Sabina Park, and then bowling them out for 209 on a benign Kotla track. West Indies lost both games. It is a credit to Darren Sammy and his men that despite all the constraints they face, they have reached positions from where they can win matches, but they need to find a way to convert these opportunities.
There's already a feeling that West Indies' chance in this series might have come and gone. In Delhi half the Indian side was just coming back to high-level cricket. India hadn't won any of their last six Tests. It was the best time to strike, but West Indies couldn't land the knock-out blow. It is hard to see India slipping up again.
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The turnout at Eden. This has been a strange home season. For the first time in what seems like forever, ODIs involving India in India were watched by half-empty stands. Then came the similar lukewarm response to the Kotla Test, which wasn't surprising, because you don't need research analysts to know that there are five venues in India that draw crowds for Tests: Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kanpur and Kolkata. Brace yourself for the shock now: two days before the Test, Kolkata's Telegraph reported that only 324 tickets had been sold at ticket counters until then. Here's hoping that the legendary Eden Gardens lives up to its reputation, and doesn't reject this Test like it did the ODI against England.
West Indies against spin. Sammy was honest with his appraisal of his side in the first Test. "As long as I've known, spin has been our problem," he said. "Losing 15 wickets for 220 odd runs ... As soon as the spinners settled, we went into a shell. Maybe we could bat a bit more positively, like Shiv[narine Chanderpaul] showed us … We need to find a way to score against spin and not let them get us out … Most of the time, we have been out lbw, playing with our pad instead of the bat."
At Kotla, Indian spinners bowled 101 overs for 240 runs and 16 wickets, seven of which were lbw and none a bat-pad catch. West Indies know where they have been wrong. Now might be a good time to correct it. A start could be to split the inexperienced top three by promoting Marlon Samuels, who could do with a change of scenery, a start against the hard ball and fast bowling.
Pitch and conditions
Like Kotla, Eden Gardens has been a sluggish pitch of late. In fact MS Dhoni criticised the track after the Twenty20I against England. An ugly wicket, he called it. The curator now promises even bounce, some lateral movement, and a track which isn't a rank turner.
Light fades fast in eastern parts of India, and accordingly the Test will start at 9am as opposed to 9.30am in other centres. Still it has been observed in the past that half an hour is not correction enough, and we could have trouble squeezing in the extra half hours to make up for poor over-rates. No rain is forecast over the next five days.
India are likely to retain the XI from Kotla unless the pitch is a raging turner or if there is any injury in the nets on the eve of the game.
India (probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 MS Dhoni (capt. & wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Pragyan Ojha, 11 Umesh Yadav
Adrian Barath should replace Kieran Powell as the opener. Samuels should get another chance despite twin failures, although it will be interesting to see where he bats. The choice between Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach remains an interesting one.
West Indies (probable): 1 Adrian Barath, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Kirk Edwards, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Marlon Samuels, 7 Darren Sammy (capt.), 8 Carlton Baugh (wk), 9 Ravi Rampaul/Kemar Roach, 10 Fidel Edwards, 11 Devendra Bishoo