Virat Kohli has indicated that India will go into the Antigua Test with the same combination that helped them pull off their first-ever Test-series win in Australia at the turn of the year. If this is the case, Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari will most likely be contesting the No. 6 role.
Having played five batsmen, a keeper, an allrounder and four bowlers through most of their tours of South Africa and England in 2018, India switched to playing six specialist batsmen in the fifth and final Test in England, at The Oval. They stuck with six batsmen through the tour of Australia as well.
With Hardik Pandya rested for the West Indies tour, India don't have a seam-bowling allrounder in their squad. The only way they can play five bowlers would be to pick two spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin - both of whom can bat - and three fast bowlers.
At his pre-match press conference, Kohli said he hadn't yet looked at the pitch.
"Still thinking about the combination," he said. "We haven't had a look at the wicket. It's more or less a choice between three quicks and a spinner or two quicks and two spinners. Last time England played here the wicket had a bit of variable bounce so all those factors come into play. We're flexible at the moment about what the combination should be."
India playing only four bowlers - variable bounce might also necessitate the extra batsman - would probably mean a straight shootout between Rohit and Vihari for the No. 6 role. Kohli did not reveal who India would pick, between the two, but he hinted that Vihari's part-time offspin could be a factor in his favour.
"It all depends on the type of combination we want to go in with," Kohli said. "Vihari has done so well since the time he's come in. Two difficult tours. Rohit's also done well in Melbourne. It all depends on the kind of combination we want to go with.
"Vihari gives you a few overs with the ball as well. He's a solid player. Rohit, we've been seeing it for years, so it's about who provides the best balance in terms of the eleven we want to choose."
Both Vihari and Rohit come into the West Indies tour with form behind them. Rohit is fresh off a World Cup campaign in which he made a record five centuries, while Vihari toured the Caribbean with the India A team, scoring 55 and 118* in the second unofficial Test. Both enjoyed productive outings with the bat during India's warm-up match in Coolidge. Rohit made 68 in his only innings, while Vihari batted twice, scoring an unbeaten 37 in the first innings and 64 in the second. Vihari did not bowl in either of West Indies A's innings.
In Australia, Rohit only played two of the four Tests, missing the Perth Test with a back injury and the Sydney Test on paternity leave. He scored 106 runs at 35.33, including an unbeaten 63 in the third Test in Melbourne.
Vihari played three Tests, scoring 111 runs at an average of only 22.20, and picking up two wickets while bowling 35 overs. The numbers might not look hugely impressive on the surface, but Kohli praised him for the stickability he showed, particularly in Melbourne where he opened the batting, and batted for a combined 133 minutes across the two innings while scoring 8 and 13.
"In the Melbourne Test if you look at how Vihari and Mayank [Agarwal] opened, Vihari scored just 18-20 runs but he batted around 85 balls, [which] tells you it's all about the team. He handed the situation so well that [Cheteshwar] Pujara and myself could go out there and play the way we did and Pujara went on to get the century for us. So the small contributions are not recognised or spoken about so much."