The first ODI after a World Cup always comes with an element of mystery. For the participating sides, there is uncertainty about which players to field and the excitement of building for the next global event.
India reached the semi-final of the world event in England but yet, had an unsatisfying campaign. West Indies, on the other hand, finished second from bottom. Now, up against each other, the two teams, especially the Men in Blue, will begin their rebuilding processes and look to put together consistent sides.
Virat Kohli has said it is too far to think of the 2023 World Cup, but the Indian side is now desperate to find the answer to their woes at number four.
India tested 12 batsmen at that spot from World Cup 2015 till the end of the 2019 World Cup, joint most with Australia who were forced to try some new faces at that spot because of Steve Smith’s suspension.
Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar from the 2019 World Cup squad have been replaced by Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer with KL Rahul keeping his place. Now the question stands: Will the management trust Rahul in the middle-order again or will the Karnataka batsman go back to being the back-up opener with Shikhar Dhawan back from injury. In the other case, who among Iyer and Pandey will get another chance to revive their ODI career?
Another option is to play both Iyer and Pandey by keeping Kedar Jadhav on the bench. Jadhav is considered as an all-round option, but he bowled only a handful number of overs in the World Cup. Intermittent fitness issues and the huge possibility of him not making it to the next World Cup, not picking him here seems like a viable option.
The Indian team may also want to deviate themselves from playing two wrist spinners. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were one of the most impactful spin bowling duos between the 2017 Champions Trophy and the recently-concluded World Cup but couldn’t emulate that on the big stage in England. Ravindra Jadeja, on the other hand, sealed his spot with exceptional performances with both bat and ball in the limited opportunities he got during the World Cup.
Who to pick between Kuldeep and Chahal; that’s another intriguing question that lies ahead of the Indian management.
Jasprit Bumrah, the stalwart of India’s pace battery, has finally received a well-deserved rest. His absence makes it imperative for the Indian side to field both, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The fight is between Navdeep Saini and Khaleel Ahmed for the third spot. Khaleel has experience and the left-armer’s angle plays to his advantage while Saini has recent form and pace on his side.
West Indies have further more troubling questions to answer. One of which is Evin Lewis’s dipping form. With John Campbell waiting in the wings, Lewis may not have much time to revive himself.
The other opener, Chris Gayle, might be playing his last ODI series but he can never be written off. The last time West Indies defeated India in an ODI series at home was in 2006. Gayle is the only surviving member from that series on either side. He started that series with a hundred and would want to notch up another three-figure score in the final ODI series of his career.
West Indies opened with Shai Hope in three games during the World Cup but playing the Indian side demands a change in dynamics. You need your best players of spin to face a major chunk of the middle overs. Hope is one of West Indies’ most potent batsman against spinners.
Hope is the one batsman who plays the important role of a stabilizer in a batting line-up full of dashers. Hence, the Windies will need him more during the middle-overs instead of at the top of the order.
West Indies had a threatening pace bowling attack in the World Cup. In the first 10 overs, they conceded 30.07 runs per wicket, the best bowling average amongst all sides. It was the spin department where they suffered.
West Indies’ struggle to find a decent spinner has been quite similar to India’s failure to find an apt number four batsman.
It won’t be realistic to expect these numbers to improve in this series as West Indies are not going in with a specialist spinner. Roston Chase is a batting all-rounder and Fabian Allen can do a bit of both. The Indian batsmen will fancy themselves against spin and like a few times in the last couple of years, the Caribbean side are likely to pay once again for not having a quality spinner in their armory.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant (wk), Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Navdeep Saini
West Indies: Chris Gayle, John Campbell, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran (wk), Roston Chase, Carlos Brathwaite, Jason Holder (c), Oshane Thomas, Kemar Roach, Sheldon Cottrell