On the eve of the series there was never any doubt that India were much the superior side but in winning the first Test against West Indies by an innings and 51 runs in three days the hosts have put themselves on the road to a clean sweep in the two-match contest. The visitors are weaker than one thought while the Indians on the other hand are looking stronger than they usually are at home.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing and at 83 for five on the second morning it was a crisis situation for India. But they extricated themselves from the precarious position so emphatically that they won with two days to spare. The West Indians as is their wont caved in without a fight once they surrendered their stranglehold and the result was a swift defeat from which there can surely be no recovery.
Whatever their bowling limitations it was expected that the West Indies had the batting to stretch the Indians but the fact that there was only one half century in both the innings underlines the lack of fight and technique among the batsmen, some of them among the most experienced, accomplished or promising in the contemporary game. The bowling on the other hand was woefully exposed by the simple fact that they allowed the hosts to recover from 83 for five to a total of 453.
If there is to be some sort of reversal in their fortunes in the second Test at Mumbai the batting has to live up to its reputation for the visitors cannot expect the weak bowling to work wonders against this Indian run machine. And to think that it was a debutant and the later order that contributed almost all the runs. If the Indian top order comes good in Mumbai then the West Indies are in for another thrashing.
For the Indians there was much to cheer even if the top order collapse was a bit of a worry. But this also emphasized that the Indians bat deep as underlined by the fact that Ravichandran Ashwin batting at No 8 scored 124 and figured in a record seventh wicket partnership with Rohit Sharma.
And what a wonderful week the Test debutant has had! As one who has always backed him to come good at the Test level I was doubly pleased with his performance. Rohit came in at a ticklish juncture, guided the innings displaying the patience and temperament of a veteran and then blossomed forth with an array of text book strokes.
Given the grim situation and the confident manner in which he set about retrieving the fortunes of the Indian team his hundred has to be one of the finest of the 14 three figure knocks by Indian debutants in Tests.
Ashwin took another step towards becoming a genuine all rounder besides being the No 1 spin bowler in the land. Those of us who have followed his first class career before his elevation to Test ranks were aware of his batting credentials but he has exceeded expectations with a second hundred in 17 Tests.
It must not be forgotten that he is one among only three Indians to have got a hundred and taken five wickets in an innings in a Test joining the ranks of greats like Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar and is firmly on his way to becoming the fastest Indian to reach 100 wickets in Tests. The assurance with which he bats and some of his elegant and beautifully timed strokes has given rise to a debate whether he should bat higher up in the order. But the Indian batting line-up is well settled and Ashwin should stay where he is from where he can bolster the late order batting.
The biggest surprise however was the third player to excel in the Indian victory. Mohammad Shami was not the first choice to figure in the playing eleven and it should normally have been Umesh Yadav to partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the new ball attack. Possibly because Eden Gardens was his home ground Shami got the nod and the result was some first rate fast medium bowling.
While his match figures of nine for 118 are impressive enough particularly for a debutant what was even more eye catching was the manner he went about his work. He bowled at a lively pace, always made the batsmen play and was remarkably accurate. That six of his victims were bowled and another leg before is testimony to this and most remarkably the way he was able to jag the ball in to surprise even well settled batsmen spoke volumes of his capabilities.
Suddenly then India are discovering young players with a lot of grit and talent. And the timing could not be better with some of the old stalwarts having retired or being out of favour. Even as Sachin Tendulkar plays his last Test on his home ground he will be very pleased to see that Indian cricket is in good hands. And with other gifted young players around the future of Indian cricket continues to be very bright.
There will be the cynics who scoff at achievements on home turf and continue to chant ``wait till the Indians get to South Africa’’. But I am confident that Dhoni and his men will perform admirably away from home too. The newcomers in the present squad are not the kind to be overawed by reputations and the team is strong enough tactically, technically and temperamentally to perform commendably anywhere.