By H Natarajan
For a team which is notoriously known for losing the first Test, it was creditable that India went one-up in the three-Test series against the West Indies. But it would be dangerous if India were to get carried away by the victory as the Test was a personal disappointment for many of the Indian players.
India tried a new opening combination in Murali Vijay and debutant Abhinav Mukund. The latter, in particular, has been spoken of very highly and a lot was expected of him. But the new pair was a disaster, failing to last even four overs in either innings. Vijay frittered away two more opportunities after failing in both innings in the second Test at Kingsmead, South Africa, in December 2010. The left-handed Mukund showed a semblance of defiance in the second innings but failed to make an impact.
With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir likely to take their rightful positions at the top of the order for the tour of England that follows, Vijay and Mukund need to grab every chance that comes their way.
Virat Kohli is widely and rightly hailed as the man who is expected to lead the Indian batting in the years to come. He has already stamped his class in the overs-limit format and it seemed a bit odd that this highly precocious batsman has not played a Test after being with the Indian ODI team for close to three years. But for all the expectation, Kohli was caught behind in both innings off Fidel Edwards – getting out to poor shots on both occasions.
Like Vijay, Mukund and Raina, VVS Laxman also had to endure twin failures. Laxman gets to play only the Test matches for India and the pressure on him is that much more to retain his place – especially considering that he is 36 years old. But Laxman is a class act and one can expect him to roar back into form.
On the plus side for India, Suresh Raina played fairly well, though his technique looks unconvincing for Test match cricket. But his innings of 82 in the first innings will give him the much-needed confidence to iron out the flaws with passage of time.
With Mahendra Singh Dhoni also failing in both innings with the bat, it was left Rahul Dravid to show yet again that you can rely on him when everybody fails. Like Laxman, Dravid only plays Test cricket. And at 38, he has to continually prove himself to shut up those gunning for him. In a team of extravagant stroke players, Dravid brings a sense of sanity with his unshakable presence. While the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag, Laxman and Dhoni are the masters of strokeplay, Dravid is a PhD in reliability and solidity. He is like a glass of water amid sumptuous buffet; easy to ignore but absolutely essential to wash down the rich meal. The importance of water can never be underestimated, much like Dravid’s worth for the Indian team.
Of the 11 players playing a combined total of 44 innings in the first Test, only Dravid got to three figures, his knock of 112 following innings of 40 in the first essay. It was master class at its very best on a track that had uneven bounce and where the ball was turning square and jumping. But then this was just another chapter in his fabulous career. In fact, at this very venue in 2006, and on a much difficult wicket, he scored 81 and 68 when no other Indian batsman - barring Kumble with 45 in the first innings - reached even 20 in either innings! And like on Thursday, it was Dravid’s genius with the bat that won India the 2006 Test at Kingston.
That only Dravid and Raina in the top seven of the Indian line-up got among runs cannot be overlooked, even if it’s not too alarming. The result of the Test could have been vastly different had Harbhajan Singh not come good as a batsman yet again by scoring 70 runs after coming into bat with the Indian score 85 for six in the first innings.
But what’s more worrying for India is that on a rectangle that was tailor-made for him to run through the side, Harbhajan disappointed as a spinner by capturing just three wickets – and just wicket being of a top six batsman. That’s scary for a side that usually goes into a Test with four bowlers. Harbhajan’s spin partner, Amit Mishra, was also a disappointment. He got two wickets in each innings, all four were of the bottom half of the West Indies batting. Not the kind of stuff one expects from a frontline spinner. That the last four West Indies batsmen – Darren Sammy, Ravi Rampaul, Fidel Edwards and Devendra Bishoo – contributed 100 runs between them in the second innings and give India some anxious moments is an indictment of the Indian bowling.
In hindsight, India may well have lost the Test had captain Sammy not reprieved when he was on six and the Indian total was 14 for one.
But amid the concerns, there were a few more positives for India in the Test apart from the batting successes of Dravid, Raina and Harbhajan. Debutant Praveen Kumar looked dangerous and showed why he will be major force in helpful conditions in England. Ishant Sharma gave decent support with the new ball and looks like slowly regaining his lost confidence and craft. The success of the two new ball bowlers augurs well for an Indian side that is in desperate need for quality bowlers. An attack powered by Zaheer, Praveen and Ishant is just what the team needs and England will think twice before making wickets that suit fast bowlers as India is capable of returning fire with fire. If there is one thing that Praveen needs to do, it is to spend time with Duncan Fletcher in the nets and ensure that he avoids getting in trouble like he did at Jamaica by running on to the forbidden area of the wicket.
West Indies may have lost the opening Test, but they were far from disgraced. India needs to contribute as a team and put up a much improved performance in the Test matches ahead. The biggest improvement has to come from Harbhajan, who is the most important strike bowler of the side.
The battle of Kingston has been won, but the war is far from over, as West Indies showed with their spirited comeback in the One-Day series by winning the final two games. And if the West Indies Cricket Board sign a peace treaty with Chris Gayle and play him in the second Test, the Indian attack could be under pressure bowling to arguably the world’s most feared batsman at the moment.
And, finally… Those who ridicule Rahul Dravid as buddha (old man) his answer came loud and clear to them from Kingston, “Buddha hoga tera baap!”
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)