First Test preview: West Indies v India

The West Indies and India kick-off their three-match Test series in Jamaica where the home side will fancy their chances against an inexperienced touring party.

<b>Overview</b><br>A combination of injury and rest has left India without half-a-dozen of their first-team regulars while the West Indies have been denied the mercurial talents of Chris Gayle by none other than themselves ahead of the three-match Test series in the Caribbean.

Not having the clean-striking West Indian around, plus the absence of the likes of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Zaheer Khan for the visitors, is a definite disappointment for any cricket fan. What the shortfall of big name players has done, however, is provide a level playing field for what promises to be a hard-fought and intriguing series. The Windies are a side slowly starting to find their way and they will be buoyed by their victories in the final two ODIs. India meanwhile are a young and hugely talented squad in their first Test outing since Duncan Fletcher took over the coaching reigns.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni will return for the tourists after a deserved break and he will have the opportunity to forge the beginnings of his relationship with Fletcher. The World Cup-winning skipper knows just how to guide his young squad through the stresses of touring and the challenges of the five-day game.

"This is an ideal opportunity for each and every individual, and that's how I want everyone to look at it," said Dhoni on Sunday.

"Each and every individual who are part of this side want to enjoy cricket. You don't want them to be under pressure, thinking that we are not playing in India and we are playing abroad. So, what's important is to create an atmosphere where they love the challenge because if there is no challenge you can't prove the mettle you have."

What effect Fletcher will have on the atmosphere which Dhoni plans to create in the Indian camp remains to be seen.

A glaring concern for the tourists is their fast bowling artillery which has been severely affected by a host of injuries. Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth will be absent, and while replacement Abhimanyu Mithun battles visa problems, Munaf Patel has also become a major doubt after pulling up in training on Friday.

That means that on a pitch at Sabina Park which is expected to favour the faster men, India could go into the game with Ishant Sharma and debutant Praveen Kumar their only seam options.

In the batting ranks the experienced duo of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman will play important roles in guiding an inexperienced top order which is likely to feature two more debutants; Virat Kohli is set to get a deserved Test start while 21-year-old Abhinav Mukund will open the batting.

The home team meanwhile will be using their victories in the final two dead-rubber games of the ODI series as inspiration, particularly the last match which saw Darren Sammy's side hold their nerve in Kingston.

While there is no Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul will return from injury and Fidel Edwards makes a welcome comeback after more than two-years on the sidelines. The 29-year-old has 122 Test wickets to his name and the Windies attack now has a balanced feel to it. The trio of Edwards, Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul are set to be a threat against the young Indian line-up on a fast track.

"West Indies have a good bowling attack. They have bowlers who can bowl fast, and if they can bowl at the right areas they can cause problems to the batsmen," acknowledged Dhoni.

"So it will be a good competition for our batsmen. I think the wicket here will be different from the first three one-dayers where the ball turned a lot," he concluded.

Elsewhere the home side will be bolstered by the post-injury return of their own 21-year-old opener Adrian Barath who has the potential to finally give the inform Lendl Simmons some support at the top of the Windies batting order.

The leg-spinning talents of Devendra Bishoo give a very well rounded feel to the West Indian side and possible the man under the most pressure to hold onto his place is captain Sammy who has Dwayne Bravo and the hugely capable Andre Russell breathing down his neck for the all-rounder's spot. Vice-captain Brendan Nash may also find himself out in the cold sooner rather than later with a straight shootout between him and Marlon Samuels on the cards for Jamaica. Nash's recent trouble against the Pakistani spinners could give Samuels the high road what with spin bowling expertise of Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>West Indies:</i> In the batting ranks <b>Shiv Chanderpaul</b> and <b>Ramnaresh Sarwan</b> are crucial to the Windies hopes of a solid batting effort. In Sarwan, who will celebrate his 31st birthday on day four, they have a man closing in on his best form; the right-hander hit 216 runs at an average of 54 in the ODI series between the two sides and – if he can avoid the cramp that set in early in the final one-dayer – he's likely to play a major role in Kingston.

<i>India:</i> Signs are that Sabina Park could feature its traditional bounce and pace, something which would favour Indian beanpole <b>Ishant Sharma</b> who will lead the attack and carry a great amount of responsibility in the absence of Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Sreesanth.

Having had a decent break from the international game, <b>VVS Laxman</b>'s tenacity and experience will be crucial to a top-order in front of him which, besides Rahul Dravid, are rather wet behind the ears.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>Fourth Test, June 2006: India won by 49 runs in Kingston<BR>Third Test, June 2006: Match drawn in Basseterre<BR>Second Test, June 2006: Match drawn in Gros Islet<BR>First Test, June 2006: Match drawn in St John's<BR>Third Test, October 2002: match drawn in Kolkata.

<b>Prediction</b><br>There have been 11 results in the last 11 Tests at Sabina Park, a record which bodes well for entertainment this time around – especially with two inexperienced line-ups. The West Indies will put up a fight but the abundant amount of talent in the tourists' batting ranks and the Windies' inability to play spin should see <b>India</b> sneak home in what will could be a cracker of a Test match.

<a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Online betting</B></a> firm Sky Bet, has India as the favourites in the <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>betting</B></a> to win the first Test against the West Indies.

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>West Indies:</i> Darren Sammy (capt), Adrian Barath, Lendl Simmons, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul , Carlton Baugh (wk), Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul, Devendra Bishoo, Fidel Edwards

<i>India:</i> MS Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Abhinav Mukund, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma

<b>Dates:</b> 20-24 June<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:00 – 12:00 (15:00 – 17:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40- 14:40 (17:40