India hosts WI with Australian tour on mind

India will look to get the house in order when it takes on West Indies in the two-match Test series, beginning on Thursday.

This may not be the ideal rehearsal for the Australia tour, which begins next month, but India will look to get the house in order when it takes on West Indies in the two-match Test series, beginning on Thursday.

The center wicket at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium has a green tinge, much to the delight of the fast bowlers. With the tour of Australia just a month away, the team looks determined to get into the match simulation, but then, with Rajkot simmering at 39 degrees, it needs to be seen how the wicket would eventually behave over the next five days.

Read: The blossoming of the young Prithvi Shaw

That perhaps would set the tone of the series.

Coming into the series, India made some strong statements in the selection process — leaving out Karun Nair and Shikhar Dhawan. That’s not all. Changing its old policies, the team management also named the final XII on the eve of the first Test, announcing the debut of Mumbai’s talented youngster, Prithvi Shaw.

To add to it, the squad also features Shardul Thakur, and going by the preparations, it looks certain that the pacer from Mumbai too will make it to the final team, replacing a spinner, mostly Kuldeep Yadav.

Shardul Thakur and Prithvi Shaw are likely to make the playing XI against West Indies.   -  Vivek Bendre

  And these small changes indicate that India already has its sights set on Australia.

Shaw’s inclusion is an interesting move given the fact that the 18-year-old, who guided the India U-19 side to the World Cup win earlier this year, had only scored eight runs in the warm-up fixture against the West Indies in Vadodara last week, whereas Mayank Agarwal hammered 90.

READ | Kohli wants team to make the most of Windies Tests

But then, captain Virat Kohli has made it clear that the youngsters like Shaw, Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari will have enough ‘space’ to feel at home at the top order. But it remains to be seen how the team management utilises its plans, given the fact that there will only be two Tests.

The team will try to boost its confidence before heading to Australia and for that this series is a perfect platform. While it will be a big challenge for Shaw, it will also be a test of character for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane — who did not have an outing to remember in England.

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With the young guns breathing down the neck, the seniors too cannot take their places for granted ahead of the trip Down Under.

At home, Pujara will have everything to play for. While he will be hoping to stick around the wicket for long, Rahane needs to ensure that he lets the willow do the talking. The Mumbai batsman hasn’t had a memorable trip to England and he should be high on confidence after a rather decent outing with Mumbai at the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Strong batting line-up

With captain Virat also back in the business, the side’s batting unit will be strengthened and the fact that most of the West Indies players will be playing their first-ever Test in India would also comfort India. After all, the opponent side looks a tad inexperienced, at least on paper.

While India is set to go with five bowlers, questions remain whether the Rajkot wicket—which has the history of offering bucketful of runs—will help the bowlers much. But then, as of now, India pins its hopes on its pace trio—Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Shardul. And the spin department is set to be taken care of by the seasoned Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Holder holds the key

If India is banking on the ‘tinge of green’, West Indies also has the likes of Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder, who could certainly prove effective on a tad bouncy surface. While it is a fact that the side will miss the experience of Kemar Roach, Gabriel and captain Holder will certainly hold the key.

As far as its batting is concerned, Kieran Powell will look to fix his opening career. Back at the opening slot after the team decided to halt the experiment with the 36-year-old Devon Smith, Powell has everything to play for. While the seasoned campaigner will hope to save his faltering career, the visiting side’s fortune is also dependent on how Shai Hope and Roston Chase fare.

For the record, it is a clash between a top-ranked team and a side that’s placed eighth. But then, in a game of glorious uncertainties, such statistics seldom matter.

Match starts at 9.30am.


India's XII for 1st Test vs WI:

Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw (debut), Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur.

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