India won the first test match, as was expected before the start of the series, but had a few anxious moments on the way. The most disconcerting of them was being 85 for 6 on the first day. I continue to be frustrated by India's batting in the first innings of a test series. This has become a regular feature of Indian cricket, starting very badly, especially with the bat in overseas conditions in test matches. Even if the conditions are suitable to batting, they somehow get themselves into a huge hole. But the good thing these days with this team is, that they are able to somehow get themselves out of the hole and perform well in the same test match. With earlier teams, after such a bad performance, they would lose the first test and then try to get back into the series and level it, as they did a few times, in Australia, England, Sri Lanka etc. They need to address this issue otherwise they will find their number one status being questioned, and rightfully so.
Anyway, back to the game, Raina and Harbhajan batted beautifully to regain control in the match. What was nice to see was the manner in which they wrested control, by batting positively, in fact by scoring runs rapidly instead of hanging around and seeing off a few overs, or a session etc. Harbhajan batted in the way he knows, but it was nice to see Raina not go into a shell and look to score at all times. If this is the way Raina is going to play his cricket, I see good things in store for him. He also looks to have spent some time tackling the short ball and now visibly drops his wrists instead of going up with the ball with a hop or hanging his bat in front of his face, like he used to in the past. For a test batsman, he still continues to hit quite a few balls in the air, which he needs to be careful of. Other than that, I like the Raina I saw in this test match.
The bowlers did a good job, especially in the first innings. PK showed that he belonged in the test match arena by making the batsmen play a lot of balls and taking out top and middle order wickets in both innings. I am convinced that he definitely needs to be on the plane to England. The conditions will suit him even more and he could be a terrific asset, especially with Zaheer at the other end. This will give us two attacking pace bowlers and if Ishant/Sreesanth/Munaf can up their game just a bit to attack the stumps more thereby making the batsmen play a lot of balls, we could have a very decent pace attack in England.
Ishant had a decent outing. Even though he took 6 wickets in the match, there were times when he looked below par because he did not make the batsmen play enough, in my opinion. But the 6 wickets would have done a lot of good to his confidence and that is equally important for any player. So I hope we see an improved Ishant in Barbados where the track is expected to have a bit more bounce and pace for him. I was a little disappointed by the performance of our spinners, especially on a track that was turning a lot from day one. In this department, I believe Bishoo outperformed our 2 experienced spinners by a long way. Harbhajan continues to perform well below par with the ball and Mishra was probably affected by the breeze that was quite heavy at times. Also, the WI batsmen looked to attack Mishra a lot more than they did Harbhajan, so he will have to be careful of that in the next test if he plays.
A word about Mukund and Kohli, the other debutants in this match. Mukund looked good in both innings, particularly the second innings when he was batting with Dravid who looked better in the second innings compared to the first. But Mukund threw it away at the wrong time. At the top level, you dont get too many chances and now the WI coaching staff would have taken note of Mukund's videos and would have a better plan for him in Barbados, so he needs to ensure that he does not give away a start. If he performs well in the next 2 matches, he will at least be in the minds of the Indian think tank for a rotation, so he needs to ensure that happens. As for Vijay, he looked very much in T20 mode in the first innings and was a bit unlucky in the second receiving a shooter. So I will watch him closely in Barbados before commenting on him. Virat probably knows that he also blew his chances in the first match. I liked the fight he put up late on the second day and he looked like he would do anything to stay not out at the end of the day, which he did. I also loved the way he responded to Fidel Edwards' aggression by blowing him kisses after almost every ball. In my opinion, that is a great way to respond to a fast bowler at the top of his aggression and I hope others take a cue from him and follow that method.
Looking ahead to Barbados, I think we should bring Munaf in for Mishra if the track looks like what is being promised by everyone - pacy and bouncy. I have not seen the Barbados track take much spin in the past, so playing 2 specialist spinners could be a luxury. Besides, Munaf will enjoy the extra bounce and if he makes the batsmen play more than he usually does, he could pick up a few wickets. Other than that, I would not make any change to the batting lineup and would give all the youngsters another chance before thinking of bringing Badrinath in. For WI, I think Andre Russell should play, but the question for them would be whom to drop because it would not be fair to drop either Rampaul or Edwards. Sammy is the weakest link in their lineup, but unfortunately, he is their captain :) So it is a tough decision for them in that regard.
One final word about Dravid. I have been saying that Dravid does not seem to be enjoying his batting like Sachin or Laxman, and that he should retire soon. But in this test match, he proved that he still has the fire and skill to win matches for India. The situation was tailor-made for him in the second innings. He had more than enough time to bat the way he does and secure the match for India without worrying about the run rate or time. But I would still love to see him score a bit more quickly than he is at the moment. I mean, if he had scored another 40 runs or so in the 260-odd balls he faced, India would have had even more runs on the board and could have attacked even more and not faced even the few moments of anxiety that occurred when the openers started positively or Bravo and Chanderpaul were batting or when the tail-enders were attacking and scoring quickly. I know it sounds odd to criticize someone who won the match for the team, but I would still love to see Dravid be a bit more positive when he is in the middle and increase his strike rate by 10-15 runs as it will make a difference to the team.
Lets hear it from you guys now. Were you confident that India would win the match or did you have doubts ? What do you think the result of the test series will be ? Lets keep the discussion going and hope India seals the series in Barbados.