Cricket: West Indies and India start test of character

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The Independent Online
While Australia and South Africa battle out what they term "The Real Decider", an ocean away the West Indies and India start a Test series here today without such grandiose claims .

The West Indies are just back from losing "The Decider" in Australia and can only erase the notion that they are a waning power through a convincing triumph over opponents who have never travelled well. On six previous Caribbean tours, India have won just twice in 28 Tests.

As the West Indies struggled in Australia, India's aversion to foreign fields was being exposed in South Africa where they capitulated in the first two Tests before having the better of the third.

This will be a real challenge for their young captain, Sachin Tendulkar, a god to India's fanatical cricketing millions. The packed programme has made the exercise as much a matter of the survival of the fittest as a test of skill for a team who have been tested to the hilt by the scheduling of six Tests and a dozen one-day internationals in three different countries in the past five months. Another five Tests and four one-day internationals lie ahead in the coming eight weeks here.

The grind has taken its toll. The fast bowler Javagal Srinath has sought treatment for the recurring tendinitis in his shoulder and the choice of a little known off-spinner, Noel David, as his replacement shows that he is irreplaceable.

West Indian fast bowlers have also suffered from the itinerary, with Kenny Benjamin, Cameron Cuffy and Nixon McLean all out of action with one strained muscle or another. The selectors have taken some heed of international trends and included a new leg-spinner, Rawl Lewis, in their 13, but they have also picked a new fast bowler of typical West Indian dimensions in Franklyn Rose, who is likely to join Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop to form the traditional quartet while Lewis handles the drinks.

On a Sabina Park pitch that has lost all of its old life, the bowlers are not likely to have any joy. More likely are big scores from the outstanding batsmen on show: Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. It is a scenario India would favour as a draw to start with would suit their purposes.