The Caribbean soujourn has been a largely pleasant one for India thus far. The visiting side has taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match Test series and, courtesy Sri Lanka's 3-0 whitewash of Australia, has regained the No. 1 Test ranking as of Wednesday (August 17).
But it's not the time to sit back and relax just yet. The fourth and final Test against West Indies at Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain begins on Thursday and the result there will determine how lengthy a stay India will spend at the top of the rankings.
An India win will see the side finish on 112 points – one ahead of Pakistan, which is at No. 2 – and retain the No. 1 ranking. A draw will mean Pakistan becomes the No. 1 side for the first time, while India will slip to No. 2, though both will end on 108 points. And should West Indies pull off a a consolation win, then India will drop to No. 4 with 108 points, behind Pakistan, England and Australia.
India has been the dominant side in the past three Tests. It won the first Test by an innings and 92 runs. It ran West Indies close in the second match, too, but rain and a spirited effort from the West Indies batsmen on the fifth day helped the home side salvage a draw. India then hit back with a 237-run win in the third match.
But the path to the top is never without obstacles and so is the case for India. Rain has decided to follow the two teams to Trinidad and Tobago and if the forecast is to come true, scattered thunderstorms are on the agenda for the first two days. What might come as a source of comfort for everyone, though, is that an entire day's play being washed out in the third Test made no difference to the result in St Lucia.
From India’s point of view, there might be some thoughts of fielding M Vijay, who missed the second Test with injury and was left out of the third Test with Rohit Sharma coming into the team. That aside, no major changes seem likely, though the conditions in Port of Spain on the morning of the match could dictate the final calls.
West Indies, meanwhile, will take solace in the fact that Queen's Park Oval has been a happy hunting ground of late for the side. Aside from a loss to South Africa in 2010, it has recorded a draw against Australia in 2012 and a win over New Zealand in 2014.
To keep that record on the plus side, West Indies will need to pull up its socks in all departments. The side's fast-bowling stocks, once the envy of the cricketing world, have been topped by India's: three of India's quicks have picked up more than five wickets while only one West Indies pacer, Miguel Cummins, has managed the same. The top five with the most runs in the series are all India players, all averaging above 50, while West Indies’ highest run-getter, Roston Chase, is averaging 38.
West Indies must believe that it can do better than that. The series is lost, but pride is still a pretty valuable thing to play for. West Indies, a side that once ruled Test cricket, will want to keep its pride intact, and make India's path to No. 1 as difficult as possible.
West Indies: Jason Holder (capt), Kraigg Brathwaite, Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, Leon Johnson, Marlon Samuels.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Stuart Binny, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.