West Indies Must Prove Tour of India Is Not a Circus for Sachin Tendulkar

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar's retirement appears set to overshadow the cricket between India and the West Indies.
Sachin Tendulkar's retirement appears set to overshadow the cricket between India and the West Indies.Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

It's extremely rare in world cricket that a bilateral series is put together as hastily as the West Indies' impending tour of India.

In the mad scramble to hold a national farewell party for Sachin Tendulkar, the BCCI has wound up using the Caribbean side as little more than a victory podium for the little master.

Yet the perception of the West Indies' visit to the subcontinent is far from favourable. Certainly, Tendulkar is worthy of a grand valedictory, given that he's set to become his nation's most eulogised figure.

Yet for many, this series is a damaging reflection of India's immense power on cricket's international landscape.

Rather than facing the world champions South Africa over the course of an extensive tour, the BCCI has bullied its way to a shorter African visit to allow Tendulkar a final exhibition at home.

Now the West Indies must prove that this tour is more than a routine victory lap, that Tendulkar's final stand will also carry context and consequence.

Undoubtedly, the visitors have much to prove, given that they haven't faced an elite opponent in the Test arena in close to 18 months. As the team's diminishing standing in the world game continues, the West Indies now regularly find themselves facing the minnows of world cricket, rather than the powerhouses that they themselves were once amongst. 

However, while the tourists have a responsibility to deliver a competitive showcase, the task ahead of them is anything but easy.

The home side will be buoyed by Tendulkar's final stanza, desperate to give the 40-year-old the parting gift his glittering career deserves. Plainly, it's hard to picture a setting that would stir more motivation and emotion for India's squad than the chance to wave goodbye to the nation's most exalted individual.

The home side will also arrive at Wednesday's first Test with soaring confidence following their remarkable ODI series victory over Australia. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan all enter this encounter in impeccable form, with Sharma fresh from scoring the second-highest limited overs score of 209 in Bangalore on Saturday.

Add the captain MS Dhoni and, of course, Tendulkar to that collection and the magnitude of the task ahead of the West Indies bowlers becomes strikingly clear.

Chris Gayle has the ability to seriously challenge India.
Chris Gayle has the ability to seriously challenge India.Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

The visitors' battery of quicks—most notably Kemar Roach, Tino Best and Shannon Gabriel—will be hard pressed to find life in the Indian wickets that appeared more like airport runways in the ODI series against Australia.

One way or another, Roach in particular must find a way to deliver a high impact assault on the home side's batsmen, a unit that relentlessly hammers mediocrity.

Hostility has regularly been the card most likely to unsettle India. One thinks that card will need to be regularly shown by the West Indies if they truly intend on challenging the established order.

With that bat, it would be a nice time for Chris Gayle to reassert his mark in the Test arena, particularly given that he's the West Indies' most gifted operator. At his thunderous best, the 34-year-old left-hander has the capacity to greatly unsettle India's dream of finishing Tendulkar's stairway into the heavens.

Behind Gayle, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul combine to provide a rather solid, if not spectacular, middle order. Yet whether this group is capable of regularly compiling the 400-plus scores that will be required to push India remains to be seen.

However, perhaps the greatest concern ahead of this series is not the names on paper, but the mentality in the minds of the visitors.

The West Indies have recorded just two victories over the world's top five ranked Test sides in more than four and a half years: a solitary victory over England in Kingston in 2009 and a narrow win over Pakistan in Guyana in 2011.

That record has coincided with an apparent resignation from the team, not helped by their administrators' general malaise during a difficult era for the Caribbean side.

It's hard not to think that the West Indies will arrive in India feeling that they're being served up as a delicious part of Tendulkar's final feast. The team will be fully aware that India are desperate for their hero to depart in triumph, aware that they're viewed as the ideal opponent to facilitate exactly that. 

While other major Test-playing nations such as South Africa, England, Australia and Pakistan would be capable of crashing the party, the West Indies represent the perfect opponent for such a celebration.

That lingering, almost insulting theme can sometimes be enough to ignite the necessary fire for some teams around the world. Most notably, teams such as England and Australia embrace that backs-to-wall mentality.

Yet the current incarnation of the West Indies doesn't appear to relish playing with a chip on the shoulder, which will make it incredibly difficult for them to shake the rather oppressive theme that this series may well witness.

The tourists could be forgiven for succumbing to the might of India's love for Tendulkar, forgiven for feeling like bait being prepared for the soon-to-be cast line.

But if this series is to shake off the scrutiny of the South Africa tour saga and be recognised as a worthy addition on the international calendar, then the West Indies must arrive intent on humbling Tendulkar's final parade.

Otherwise, this series will be nothing more than exorbitant party, for which the West Indies will act as servants to India's king.