Kolkata, Nov 5: Rarely has a Test match been so overshadowed by events concerning one man as the India-West Indies game begins at the Eden Gardens here Wednesday.
But then, this was bound to happen once the two-Test engagement got billed as the farewell series of the “God of cricket”.
Sachin Tendulkar’s announcement last month, calling time on his 24-year career after the series, has seen a volcanic eruption of emotion across India, with all and sundry vying to devise ingenious ways to bid adieu to the cricketing genius.
Tendulkar himself chose his hometown Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium as the venue for his 200th and last match which will be preceded by one at the Eden.
A party has started at the hallowed Eden, and a cricket… no, Sachinmania is sweeping West Bengal’s capital.
Amid grand plans to accord a memorable send-off to the icon, the prayers on every cricket buffs’ lips are for a big score from Tendulkar before an expected full house of 65,000.
Dry statistics make the task look challenging.
Tendulkar has been without a century for 39 innings, two years and 10 months. He has only two 50-plus scores in his last 20 outings. But the ageing warhorse, who holds several batting records, has awed fans with his application repeatedly in the past, and has it in him to do it again.
Apart from the sheer magnetism of Tendulkar’s last appearance, another intriguing factor could be the virgin wicket itself where not even a domestic match has been played after the ground was relaid last year.
While there are apprehensions of the strip playing slow and low after last week’s rains, the ground’s curator Prabir Mukherjee promised a good, firm, even-bounce track, where the batsmen could play their strokes. The wicket looks bald, sans a tinge of grass.
With the wicket a mystery, the composition of the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Indian bowling brigade could be interesting. “The thing is whether we want to go with four bowlers or have a fifth to the attack, or someone who can bowl a bit if needed,” said Dhoni.
In the first case, the choice could be among a fit again Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and uncapped local Mohammed Shami to share the new ball with Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Offie Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm orthodox Progyan Ojha would be the slow bowlers. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra stands to make the cut if the hosts decide to rope in an additional spinner with Ashwin opening the bowling with Bhuvneshwar.
While most of Indian batsmen select themselves, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane fight for the No.6 slot. Sharma may look a certainty after his hurricane double hundred at Bangalore but Dhoni kept the debate alive.
“If we need someone who can bowl a bit of off-spin then Rohit plays, if we go with four specialist bowlers, Ajinkya may play. Neither of them play if we go for five bowlers,” said Dhoni.
The visiting Caribbeans have injury blues with pacer Kemar Roach and offie Shane Shillingford missing the practice game against Uttar Pradesh due to shoulder issues. However, skipper Darren Sammy said they would be available and also hinted at going for “two spinners and two fast bowlers and an all-rounder”.
The Indian bowlers would have their task cut out against destructive opener Chris Gayle and veteran bat Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who is slated to play his 149th Test. Chanderpaul has always relished taking on Indian bowlers and seven of his 28 hundreds have come against the hosts.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (Captain), Tino Best, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Sheldon Cotterell, Narsingh Deonarine, Kirk Edwards, Chris Gayle, Veersammy Permaul, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford, Chadwick Walton.
Umpires: Nigel Llong (England) and Richard Kettleborough (England)
Third umpire: Vineet Kulkarni (India)
Fourth umpire: Subrat Das (India)
Match Referee: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe)
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at email@example.com)