While the hosts, after their shock elimination from the ODI World Cup Qualifiers would be eager to prove that they are still relevant in world cricket, the Indian team too is beset with certain challenges.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s much-debated exit has created a slot in the Indian top-order and the immensely talented Mumbai left-hander will hope that he lives up to his ‘name’ and promise that he has shown at the first-class level before being thrown at the deep end of the pool.
While the strait-jacketed solution is putting the debutant at one drop but Shubman Gill is more naturally suited in the middle-order. Jaiswal, 21, usually opens for Mumbai, West Zone and Rest of India in red-ball cricket.
But to settle his nerves first up, No. 3 isn’t a bad slot to begin with.
Against a bowling attack comprising of seasoned Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alazarri Joseph and Jason Holder, it will be a baptism by fire for young Jaiswal before he faces South Africa in Rainbow nation at the end of the year and the mighty Australians during the 2024-25 winter.
India’s new World Test Championship cycle will be a way tougher assignment compared to the previous two editions, when a set team reached back-to-back finals riding on a top-notch pace bowling unit.
But in the absence of an injured Jasprit Bumrah, who might find it difficult to play Test matches on a regular basis and the skilful Mohammed Shami, rested for this series, the Indian attack would surely lack the sting that made the current team a world beater.
Of the two others, who were part of the famed quartet, Ishant Sharma will be making his commentary debut in this series while Umesh Yadav at 36, might find it difficult to get a recall after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Hence the five-man attack, led by 19-Test old Mohammed Siraj and supported by Shardul Thakur with nine long-form games in his kitty, does look really thin on experience in comparison to the West Indies pace attack.
It will again boil down to how West Indies measure up against the guile and artistry of Ravichandran Ashwin (474 wickets) and Ravindra Jadeja (268), who have close to 750 Test scalps between them.
The choice of four bowlers is automatic but picking one among Mukesh Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat and Navdeep Saini might not be a easy proposition.
Similarly, with two spinners in operation Kona Bharath is a better bet behind the stumps than Ishan Kishan but the former is on borrowed time due to his performance in front of the wicket. Kishan’s flair and being a left-hander can’t be ignored for long till Rishabh Pant gets his place back in the side.
The Windsor Park hasn’t hosted a Test match in the last six years but this is one format where the assortment Caribbean nations have been at their best in recent years.
It will be foolhardy on India’s part to think that West Indies’ World Cup qualifier show will impact their Test match performance and that could be a bit of a misnomer.
In their pace attack, the two primary bowlers are Roach (261 wickets), a veteran of nearly 15 years and Gabriel (164 wickets), who has been a potent new ball enforcer. Gabriel doesn’t play white ball cricket.
On the Caribbean tracks, both are more than a handful and the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Indian batting order – skipper Rohit Sharma, the peerless Virat Kohli and comeback-man Ajinkya Rahane, will have more than a job at hand.
All three have to face different kind of challenges.
For Rohit, it is still a sketchy road and his future will only be clear after the 50- over World Cup. He has to win this two-match series first up and also make significant contribution with the bat in order to remain relevant in the longer format post World Cup.
If one is fair, Rohit has looked most assured in this format compared to shorter ones.
Virat Kohli too needs some tall knocks. The canny West Indies pacers could exploit his problems outside the off-stump channel and a string of low scores will again raise questions if yardstick of dealing with a Cheteshwar Pujara is different from dealing with him.
Both Kohli and Pujara have averaged below 30 in the last three years but only the Saurashtra batter copped criticism and eventually got the axe from the side.
For Ajinkya Rahane, the comeback and elevation to vice-captaincy might not give a clear picture as his head would be the first on the chopping block if there are a couple of failures as Ruturaj Gaikwad is considered a ready replacement.
Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul will also comeback at some point.
So the sub-narratives in the main story will be equally intriguing in the next 13 days.
India: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Virat Kohli, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), KS Bharat (wicket-keeper), Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Mohd. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat, Navdeep Saini
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite (C), Jermaine Blackwood (VC), Joshua Da Silva (WK), Alick Athanaze, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Kirk McKenzie, Jomel Warrican