RAJKOT, India – Without a Test win on Indian soil in 24 years and a series victories in nearly four decades, underdogs West Indies find themselves up against the hurdle of history as much as the might of the world’s number one cricket team, in the opening Test which bowls off at midnight tonight Barbados time.
West Indies’ last victory on the subcontinent came when Courtney Walsh’s side won handsomely in Mohali in 1994. Their last series win was under the legendary Clive Lloyd in 1983 when a star-studded unit beat the Indians 3-0 in a six-Test series. That victory, coming on the heels of a home triumph against the Indians just months earlier, helped cement the Caribbean side as one of the greatest ever.
Thirty-five years on, things could not be more contrasting. West Indies are ranked number eight in the world, only above Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and also have not beaten India in a Test anywhere in 16 years.
Their last trip here in 2013 was a disaster, losing both Tests inside three days. The only survivors from that series are opener Kieran Powell and speedster Shannon Gabriel.
It means the Windies will field a largely inexperienced side against Virat Kohli’s juggernaut but Holder said the squad was one not easily intimidated and could be depended on to show courage and fight.
“It’s obviously a great challenge [facing India]. Everybody in our camp is up for it,” Holder told a media conference today ahead of the game.
“Within the last two-three years we’ve played some of the top teams in the world and we have pushed them and we have beaten some of the top teams in the world as well.
“This group has shown what they can do and it’s not a matter of us trying to come here to prove anybody wrong or get involved in a lot of peripheral stuff. That is unnecessary in my opinion.
“We’ve come here for one particular reason and that’s to play good cricket. That’s what we need to control – that’s all we can control – and that’s what I want the guys to focus on playing.”
Amidst their gloomy results, West Indies have had some bright sparks, beating Pakistan at home and England away last year.
However, whatever progress achieved there seemed to unravel in two-Test thrashings at the hands of New Zealand last December when neither match went the distance.
The tourists have won just seven of their last 22 Tests and Holder said even though results were important, improving team processes were equally critical to outcomes.
“I try not to stress too much or think too much about the result. We just try to zone in on the process,” Holder explained.
“And every individual knows [his] role inside the team and for every individual, it’s about being confident enough to express [himself] and trying to execute [his] role to the best of his ability.
“Sometimes it doesn’t always go to plan but that’s life, not only in cricket but in sports that’s life. We’ve just got to accept that and look for ways to improve, if it doesn’t go right. When it goes right we’ve just got to capitalise on it.”
West Indies have had a bumpy build-up to the series, losing fast bowler Alzarri Joseph to fitness concerns and experienced new-ball seamer Kemar Roach to a family bereavement.
In contrast, India will be at full strength, with captain Virat Kohli leading a unit that includes KH Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and seamer Mohammed Shami.
Holder said regardless of which team India put out, patience would be the key to any Windies success.
“Regardless of whoever plays for India now, we’ve got to focus on what we need to do,” Holder stressed.
“I don’t want to sit here and single out players. It’s a long cricket game – five days of cricket is a long time – so it’s a matter for us to be patient. I think patience will play a massive key down here in India and just stick to our game plans.
“I don’t really want to get into the one-on-one battles. I just want to play as a collective group and we look forward to the challenge.”
India look likely to give a Test debut to teenage opening prodigy Prithvi Shaw and captain Virat Kohli spoke of the importance of his top order getting runs.
“If you look at sides who win Test matches, contributions on top and contributions in the lower order are more crucial than the guys who bat in the middle because whatever happens in the middle is connected to either what the top order or the lower order does,” Kohli said.
“The reasons why England won against us is because their lower order scored more than us and we realise that.”
He added: “I think apart from the top of the order getting cemented, I don’t think with these two Test matches there’s a lot that we’re looking at. Rest of the things feel quite settled. Just that at the top of the order these guys are new, so they’ll take some time getting set, but they definitely have the skillset and from what we’ve seen of them, they’re supremely talented.”
INDIA – Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wkp), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur.
WEST INDIES – Jason Holder (captain), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Jahmar Hamilton, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Sherman Lewis, Keemo Paul, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican.