Cricket aficionados all over the world are looking forward to what can be called a landmark finale series for Sachin Tendulkar, who plays his last two Test matches against West Indies starting November 6. I will be glued to my TV set as well, but I'll be more curious to find out how India take to Test cricket after a gap of nearly 8 months of non-stop limited overs cricket. More importantly, what India will be up against when they take on the Caribbean side in the first Test starting at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
There are many questions that come to my mind, some of which are - which team is better prepared coming into a five-day match series? Will Chris Gayle shine for the visitors? Which Caribbean bowler can challenge the Indian batsmen? Will Cheteshwar Pujara score another double hundred? Who will dismiss Shivnarine Chanderpaul? So on an so forth.
Here we will assess the visitors, who are trying to win a series against a top Test side for first time in over 5 years. What the Windies struggle with most in Test cricket is sporadic performances from few of the their players but the team's contribution as a whole in wins have been few and far between in the last few years. Talent wise, they have the players to upstage India in their own den but for that to happen, they will definitely have to do better than what they have been doing over the past few years.
Let's start from the batting. Yes, Twenty20 cricket's most dangerous batsman Chris Gayle is due for a huge score in Test cricket. When I say huge score, I don't generally mean a hundred. I mean a really huge hundred, something like a double or a triple century. Gayle is one of only four players in Test history to register 300-plus runs in a single innings twice, apart from Sir Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag. Incidentally Gayle, whose last innings itself was a hundred - 101 vs Zimbabwe at Roseau - has not scored a single hundred in India. The marauding Jamaican will look to set that record straight.
Along with Gayle, the West Indies top-order will be bolstered by in-form Kirk Edwards, who recently led the A side to a 1-1 draw in the three-match unofficial Test series against Pujara-led India A in the sub-continent. More than his batting form - a highest score of 91 - in that series, it was his leadership abilities that was a plus for the Caribbean side. With an average of nearly 40 after nine Tests and two hundreds and four fifties, including a debut ton against India, the hosts can't afford to take this right-handed batsman lightly.
Down to the middle order and here come the heavyweights like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels. There is reason I call these three heavyweights because these batsmen have a penchant for scoring runs against India. Bravo averages 50 against India and it goes up a notch to 55 in the sub-continent. The left-handed Trinidadian hammered a whopping 404 runs including two hundreds in his previous trip to India in 2011 to top the run charts amongst either sides. Chanderpaul averages 55 in India and has a total of 491 runs in six Tests with two hundreds and a fifty. A veteran of 148 Tests, Chanderpaul is currently ranked third in ICC Test batting list behind South Africans AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. What makes Chanderpaul a huge threat for any team is that he does not get dismissed often. In his last 11 Tests in 2012-13, he has been dismissed just 12 times meaning he average a mind boggling 98 last year and 68 this year. Samuels, a dangerous limited-overs player, showed his true potential for the first time slamming his maiden hundred against India in the Kolkata Test in 2002. Year 2012 was a watershed time for the this right-hander, with a total of 866 runs in 7 Tests at 86.60, including a 260 against Bangladesh. In Indian Samuels averages 41.28 with 289 runs in 4 Tests including a century and two fifties.
The Caribbean bowling may not boast of the world's leading bowlers, but 14th-ranked Kemar Roach and 24th-ranked off-spinner Shane Shillingford have the potential and promise to challenge Indian batsmen. Both Roach and his likely new-ball partner Tino Best can hit the high 140-kmph mark and trouble the Indian batsmen with pace, something that we have seen leading to their downfall in the recent ODI series against Australia. Whether or not they'll be able to extract enough from the surfaces, is something we'll have to wait and watch. Skipper Darren Sammy, with his disciplined wicket-to-wicket line and length can trouble the batsmen with little bit of swing with the old ball to go along with the uncanny bounce he can generate from the wicket due to his height. Another bowler, rookie 24-year-old Veeraswamy Permaul, who troubled the likes of Pujara and others in the three-match A series, is a future prospect but I'd like to see him play a game at least to show his slingshot-like left-arm orthodox bowling style.
All in all, the West Indies side, although not world beaters by any stretch of imagination, have the ingredients to upstage India in India. However, their on-field captaincy, pressure of playing in front of huge crowds, now especially after this being Sachin's farewell series, will stand the test of time.