Coming into the first Test against India at North Sound, the West Indies had three bowlers who were averaging less than 25 at a strike rate of below 50 since the start of 2017. Therefore, it was no surprise to see the hosts begin in the fashion that they did.
After a 15-minute delay due to rain, West Indies captain Jason Holder won the toss and elected to bowl first. This was exactly what he had done in the previous two Tests at this venue, with the Windies winning on both occasions.
Kemar Roach was in top form early on, bowling two superb deliveries to get rid of Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara in just the fifth over of the innings. Roach’s effectiveness with the new ball is not something new. In fact, since 2016, he has the best average (13.57) among all fast bowlers during the first 10 overs of a Test innings (minimum – 10 wickets).
The double blow from Roach had already vindicated Holder’s decision. India were on the back foot right away and, not for the first time, they were hopeful that captain Virat Kohli would dig them out of a hole. Despite the wretched start, the star batsman began on a positive note, slamming a boundary off just the second delivery he faced. He lasted just 12 balls in the middle though as he guided a short-ish wide delivery straight to gully off Shannon Gabriel’s bowling. 25/3, and the number one ranked team were under the cosh.
Robert Horry, considered one of the NBA’s greatest clutch players, once said: “Sometimes the pressure will burst the pipes, sometimes the pressure will make diamonds.” And heading into this Test, there was immense pressure on both KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane’s spots in the Test XI. The duo’s performances in the longest form of the game had been well below par in recent times.
On one hand, Rahul headed into the match with just one 50+ score in his previous 18 Test knocks. On the other, Rahane hadn’t scored a century in 28 innings. Neither improved on these two stats on Thursday, but both made crucial contributions as India were desperate for a partnership after the three early wickets.
While both began tentatively, they showed resilience to put together a 68-run partnership for the fourth wicket. Rahul was looking good during his stay in the middle and it was especially interesting to see how he was attacking deliveries that were on a fuller length while gladly seeing off the shorter stuff.
The Karnataka batsman, though, will be bitterly disappointed at the manner of his dismissal. And not for the first time in his international career. In Roston Chase’s first over, Rahul guided an innocuous delivery down the leg side into the hands of wicketkepper Shai Hope and a wonderful opportunity to notch up a 50+ score was thrown away.
Rahane was then joined at the crease by Hanuma Vihari, who was given the nod ahead of Rohit Sharma. This pair looked to have brought India right back into the game and were rebuilding India’s innings positively.
As Kohli’s side looked to be gaining the advantage, Holder turned back to his most experienced pacer Roach. And the 31-year-old delivered once again as he found the well-set Vihari’s outside edge to register his third caught-behind of the match. The Rahane-Vihari partnership that threatened to take the game away from the West Indies ended after adding 82 to the total.
Rahane, meanwhile, was inching close to his first Test century in two years before he chopped on a Gabriel delivery onto his stumps. Roach and Gabriel bowled well in tandem and they got their rewards, picking up five wickets between them. While Rahul and Rahane couldn’t convert their knocks into diamonds, they didn’t burst the pipes either.
Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja - who survived a leg-before-wicket call thanks to DRS - saw off the rest of day’s play, with a third rain delay signaling the end of proceedings. It was a fine day of Test cricket with the match right in the balance. While West Indies will be hopeful of cleaning up India’s lower-order quickly on day two, the Indians will be looking at their last recognised batting pair to get their total near to 300, if not more.
India 203/6 (Rahane 81, Rahul 44, Roach 3/34, Gabriel 2/49) vs West Indies.