The most predictable Test match you could possibly imagine came to a conclusion in Antigua as the West Indies were bowled out for 231 to lose by an innings and 92 runs. The Indian bowlers did well to take the nine wickets that they needed for victory on Day four and are deserved winners, but from the moment that Virat Kohli won the toss and decided to bowl on Thursday morning this game has played out exactly as you would have expected – A massive first innings from India led by a masterful Kohli innings followed by two meek capitulations by a West Indies side that seem incapable of sustained application when they are at the batting crease.
From a West Indian stand point this result is as bleak a reminder as they could have had as to their relative standing in the world of Test cricket. A professional performance from India swept them aside with so much ease that they didn’t ever have to do anything beyond putting the ball in the right spot to bowl then out twice.
There is a great story here, even if it is not a pretty one. Here is the West Indies– a cricketing nation that have dominated white ball cricket in 2016, winning the men’s World T20, the women’s World T20 and the Under-19 World Cup. An archipelago so rich with cricketing talent that sons of the soil are commanding million dollar contracts as T20 superstars around the world. A region that regularly sees big crowds for their domestic T20 tournament, where the population are still cricket mad and where, for all the talk of American sports taking away the talented youngsters from cricket, it is still the most popular pastime by a distance.
Despite all of these things, here they were, a team missing many of those global superstars being embarrassed at home. The contrast between T20 success and Test performances is ripe for exploration by those covering this Test on television. There are hours of on air discussions that can be had with local experts who are already in the commentary box.
That isn’t what we had throughout this match. Instead there was an endless smorgasbord of nostalgia porn discussing the West Indies teams of the 1980s. The message seemed to be that this current West Indies team were so dreadful they weren’t even worth discussing. That Caribbean cricket is in such a terrible state that we may as well just talk about when Viv Richards and Michael Holding played 30 years ago.
This is nothing short of disrespectful to the players on the field and West Indies cricket as a whole. They have played poorly this Test but there are still some fine cricketers in this side, they have the raw ingredients of a competitive team. Every team has peaks and troughs through their history. The West Indies are no different. Yes, they have played poorly, but cricket’s obsession with the rearview mirror is a blight on the coverage of the sport.
But for all of the failings of the West Indies, India have been clinical in this Test match. This was a brutal dismantling of the team that was put in front of them. In the first West Indies innings, the Indian seamers were on point from the very start, claiming eight of the wickets that fell. In the second West Indies batting effort it was their off spinner that did the damage.
Ravichandran Ashwin claimed his first five-wicket haul outside Asia, and his fifth five wicket innings in his last six Tests. Having made a century when India batted and then claimed that haul with the ball, it could not have had a better Test. That it was the second time in his Test career where he has scored a hundred and claimed a five wickets says a great deal about his all-round ability. His figures of 7-83 are his second best return in Tests.
While Ashwin was great, most of the credit for this win will go to Virat Kohli, both as a batsman and a captain. He put India in a position from which they could not lose when he made 200. He then marshalled his bowlers brilliantly in the field. The luxury of an attack made up of five front line bowlers certainly helped, but it is difficult to think of a single criticism of his captaincy throughout this match.
He timed the declaration correctly, set attacking fields and got the most out of his attack. There will be far sterner tests for his captaincy in the coming months than he was given by this misfiring and demoralised West Indian team, but after years of the ponderous leadership of MS Dhoni where games were allowed to drift, the proactive outlook of Kohli is a welcome change.
Team India’s first game under new coach Anil Kumble has been a complete and unqualified success. From the brave team selection that saw them play only five specialist batsmen to the execution in both batting and bowling, they did all that was needed and expected to beat the West Indies handsomely. They will move on to the second Test in Jamaica fully expecting that they will achieve more of the same.