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Windies: 'Not as strong as we faced 10 years ago'

By Harish Kotian
Last updated on: July 21, 2016 16:34 IST
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'The batsmen need to spend a lot of time at the wicket and wait for the right opportunity to score.'
'The bowlers have to be patient and build the pressure to force the batsmen into making mistakes.'
Mohammad Kaif tells Rediff.com's Harish Kotian what Virat Kohli's team needs to do to keep India's 14-year unbeaten record in the Caribbean intact.

IMAGE: West Indies players celebrate an Australian wicket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, December 26, 2015. Photograph: Kind courtesy Windiescricket.com

Former batsman Mohammad Kaif believes India start as favourites in the four-Test series against the West Indies, but picking up 20 wickets won't be an easy task on the slow wickets in the Caribbean.

Kaif was part of the team which won the four Test series in the West Indies 1-0 in 2006, as India registered its first series triumph in the Caribbean in 35 years. After three successive draws, Rahul Dravid's team outclassed Brian Lara's West Indies by 49 runs.

India's current coach Anil Kumble picked up 6/78 in the second innings to bowl the team to a famous victory on day three in Jamaica in July 2006.

"India start as favourites," says Kaif. "The Indian bowlers are capable of bowling out the West Indies twice as their batting does not have the quality like in the past. This West Indies side is not as strong as we faced 10 years ago."

"Then they had players of the quality of Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but believe me picking 20 wickets on those slow wickets won't be easy," Kaif adds.

"In a Test match," he says, "the wickets keep getting slower with every passing day. On a slower wicket it becomes difficult for the bowlers to pick wickets because there is not much help."

"If it turns, it turns very slow, so the bowlers have to be patient and bowl a lot of overs and build the pressure to force the batsmen into making mistakes," he says.

Mohammad Kaif

IMAGE: Mohammad Kaif, left, celebrates scoring a century in the second Test at St Lucia, June 11, 2006. Photograph: Arko Datta/Reuters

India dominated the series in 2006, Kaif recalls, but were unable to force a result in the first three Tests as the bowlers struggled to claim 20 wickets.

"That's what we found out in the series in 2006. We dominated most of the series, but we managed to just one Test."

"In the first three matches we were the dominant side, but somehow we could not force a result because the conditions were such that we could not get the 20 wickets needed for a win. And you know that to win Test matches you need to bowl the opposition out twice," he says.

"It doesn't matter how much you score, you need to get all the 20 wickets to win."

"In that series, we posted huge scores every time we batted, but our bowlers struggled to take wickets on slow pitches, so the first three matches finished in draws," Kaif remembers.

The pitch for the final Test at Sabina Park in Jamaica was a green track because of which the match finished inside three days. India scored 200 and 171 while the West Indies were bowled out for 103 and 219.

Captain Dravid, who scored two half-centuries (81 and 68) on a difficult wicket, was named the man of the match and also player of the series for being the top run-getter, aggregating 496 runs at an average of 82.

"In the last Test match, the pitch in Jamaica was different. It was a seaming track, there was a lot of grass on the pitch and that is why we were able to get a result," says Kaif.

Coach Anil Kumble had asked his batsmen to show patience in the middle.
'We are focusing at changing the mindset of batsmen in terms of coming from a shorter format into a longer format and the batting time, as it is important to bat for a longer duration,' Kumble said during an interaction on Twitter on Wednesday, July 20.

Kaif, who scored 148 not out in the second Test in St Lucia in 2006, echoed Kumble, saying it would be important for the players to wait for the right delivery rather than trying to force the pace.

"I expect the wickets to be low and slow and batsmen might find it difficult to hit in the gaps. On slow pitches, if there is less pace on the ball it is hard to find the gaps in the field, so the batsmen need to spend a lot of time at the wicket and wait for the right opportunity to score," he points out.

IMAGE: Coach Anil Kumble, right, with fast bowler Umesh Yadav during a training session. Photograph: PTI

India's plus point this time is Kumble's presence as coach. The great leg-spinner has played 11 Tests in the West Indies, claiming 45 wickets at an average of 31.

"Kumble has played a lot in the West Indies and he is a bowler so he will understand the conditions well. So the three Indian spinners -- Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja -- will have a lot of experience and feedback to fall back on from the legendary spinner," says Kaif.

"If the coach, captain and bowlers have the right kind of understanding, then it becomes easier for the bowlers as they are very clear with the roles they have to play in a match, which will result in perfect execution of plans," he adds.

Kaif feels it will be ideal to play five bowlers under the conditions but that would leave India with a long tail since wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha is yet to make a mark with the bat.

"You have to take Saha into account. He has been a good wicket-keeper but is yet to convince with the bat, so India will have to think if he is good enough to play that role of filling up as the sixth batsman."

"It is a perfect opportunity for Saha to prove himself with the bat and prove that he can be an important player in the Test side," says Kaif. "When we had (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni, he provided the team with a lot of balance because he was very good with the bat and you could afford to play with one batsman less. Saha needs to make consistent contributions with the bat."

"The big plus point is that all the bowlers are very handy with the bat, if you take guys like Ashwin, Jadeja, Mishra and even Bhuvneshwar Kumar into consideration," says Kaif. "That makes a lot of difference because if the tailenders can come up with good contributions then you can afford to play an extra bowler instead of a batsman."

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