Rohit Sharma strikes form, Ajinkya Rahane's struggles continue against West Indies 'A'

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India batsman Ajinkya Rahane.

India began preparations for the two-match Test series against the West Indies with a tour game against the ‘A’ team in Antigua on Saturday.

The Indians batted first with KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal opening the innings. They didn’t make any significant impact with the first wicket falling on on 36.

The bigger disappointment for India was the form of Test specialist Ajinkya Rahane, who departed for just one from six balls. Rahane, who is the captain for the match, has been struggling in red ball cricket for some time.

In 14 first-class innings, including his latest outings for Hampshire in county cricket, Rahane has one century and one fifty. Also, he has been out for nought on three occasions and for one twice.

While Rahane struggles will give the Indian management some headaches, Rohit Sharma’s efforts should fill them with confidence. The ODI specialist has been given another chance to resurrect his Test career and he put his best foot forward on Saturday, hitting a fifty along with Cheteshwar Pujara. Rohit eventually departed for 68.

If it comes down to a toss-up between Rahane and Rohit, the latter might just get nod for the first Test in North Sound which starts on Thursday.

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Ravi Shastri's re-appointment as India coach was expected, even if not entirely deserved

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Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri.

Ravi Shastri was surprisingly retained as India coach on Friday… said absolutely no one.

The Indian cricket board began the process of finding the next coach in July but it hardly took any time to realise that it was more of a formality.

By the end of last month itself, captain Virat Kohli had said he would like to see Shastri continue as coach. Before him, Anshuman Gaekwad – part of the three-member committee constituted to hire the next coach – said Shastri had a good chance of retaining his job. And this was before all applications had been received for the position.

Some of the best cricketing brains in the world applied for job – from Mike Hesson, Tom Moody to Phil Simmons. But in the end, it was Shastri who won the race. And it was always going to be him.

Indian cricket went through tumultuous times when Anil Kumble was appointed head coach in 2016/17 only for differences to emerge between Kohli and him. Many attempts were made to repair the relation but Kohli had made up his mind.

Kohli has an equally strong liking for Shastri and his style of functioning. The skipper, and presumably top players, are comfortable in the team atmosphere Shastri has created. Also, his overall stats as coach are more than respectable.

Under Shastri, India strengthened their grip on the No1 Test ranking and enjoyed an impressive run across formats. The men in blue won 45 and lost just 15 ODIs under him, while winning 25 and losing 11 T20s. In Tests, India had a 11-7 win loss record with a historic series win in Australia a great achievement.

But it is also a fact that India continued to fail at the big stage of ICC tournaments – the semi-final loss at recent World Cup the latest in a growing list. Also, despite enjoying early advantage, India suffered Test series defeats in South Africa and England last year.

One major issue that has plagued the India team over the last few seasons is inconsistent selection policies, especially in the batting department. Ambati Rayudu was infamously overlooked for the World Cup despite decent performances and public backing by Kohli in 2018. The team management has yet to finalise the middle order in ODIs despite spending two years on the problem.

Also, there were glaring selection blunders during the South Africa and England Test tours – like benching of in-form Bhuvneshwar Kumar after the first SA Test or selecting a second spinner on a greentop at Lord’s.

It’s only because India have a ready pool of 20-25 top class cricketers that the constant chopping and changing and lack of clarity isn’t hurting them more. When Kumble was in charge, selection policies were crystal clear with injured members of the playing XI walking right back into the team after regaining fitness.

Shastri has been given a two-year contract and the next big assignment for him will be the T20 World Cup next year and the Test Championship, which has already started. Maybe India will win the T20 crown and that will give the Kohli-Shastri combination the validity of a major trophy.

The other way to look at it is that this was the perfect time for India to pick a hard task master with a proven record – like Kiwi Hesson – and streamline its selection policies to make the best use of the abundant talent at hand. But the Indian management has decided to not rock the boat and maintain the dressing room atmosphere. Hopefully for Indian fans, there will a trophy or two at the end of it.

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Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer team up again to help India seal 2-0 ODI series win over Windies

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Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer.

Virat Kohli hit a brilliant century to steer India to a six-wicket victory over the West Indies in the third one-day international in Port of Spain.

In a match reduced to 35 overs per side after two rain delays, the home side posted a total of 240-7 before India were set a revised target of 255 under the Duckworth/Lewis/Stern method.

Rohit Sharma was run out cheaply and India lost Shikhar Dhawan (36) and Rishabh Pant (0) in the space of three deliveries, but Kohli was well supported by Shreyas Iyer as he produced a perfectly-timed innings.

Kohli hit 14 boundaries in his total of 114 not out from 99 balls, with Iyer smashing five sixes as he plundered 64 from 41 deliveries before chipping Kemar Roach to Jason Holder.

Kedar Jadhav joined Kohli at the crease and made a quickfire 19 from 12 balls to help his captain get India across the line with 15 balls to spare and secure a 2-0 series victory.

After winning the toss and opting to bat first, West Indies made a flying start with a 115-run partnership between openers Evin Lewis and Chris Gayle, who was playing potentially his last ODI.

Wearing number 301 – his total of ODI appearances – rather than his usual 45, Gayle made 72 from 41 balls before being caught by Kohli from the bowling of Khaleel Ahmed.

As he walked off Gayle held his helmet up on top of his bat handle while the India players ran up to shake his hand, while he also led the teams off the field at the end of the match.

Gayle’s dismissal led to a significant slowing of the run rate and although Nicholas Pooran did make 30 from 16 balls, his team-mates struggled to score against some disciplined Indian bowling.

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