With the World Cup having ended, India’s first major assignment is the tour of the West Indies, beginning with three T20 Internationals (T20I), followed by three One-Day Internationals (ODI) and two Tests. With the World Test Championship (WTC) finally giving bilateral series some meaning, every bilateral T20I series must also be seen as a platform to build for the next big global event – the ICC World T20 in 2020.
At the end of a World Cup, many teams start building for the next World Cup, something that England did successfully post their debacle in the previous edition. The T20I series between India and West Indies will be the beginning of such a process, while keeping eye on the prize.
In 2016, it was West Indies who knocked India out of the World T20 and went on to win their second title. Things are a tad different for West Indies this time around as they do not have the services of the likes of Darren Sammy or Dwayne Bravo anymore, and while it will be an uphill task for them to retain their title, they are known to be an unpredictable side, with T20s being their forte. They still have genuine match-winners in the team.
Despite the fact that they have lost the most T20Is since the end of World T20 2016, they will take solace from the fact that they have some genuine T20 cricketers like Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard and upcoming stars like Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Oshane Thomas, among others at their disposal. They will be well tested by an Indian side, who have won second most T20Is (26) in the last three years.
India have decided to give a few youngsters a go in the T20Is. It gives them a new lease of life as they have an opportunity to push for a place ahead of the big event in 2020 if they perform consistently in the series leading up to it. Someone like Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Washington Sundar or Rishabh Pant have never been given an extended run in any format. This could be the beginning for them.
However, the one player who has been unlucky to miss out is Shubman Gill, who scored 296 runs at a strike-rate of 124.36 in 13 innings which included three fifties in the IPL. With scores of 69, 77, 62 and 10 in the 50-over ‘A’ matches against West Indies, one cannot help but feel for him.
Talking about Pant, he has big shoes to fill in the limited-over games of the series. MS Dhoni pulled out of the tour which paved the way for Pant to be India’s No 1 ‘keeper. Since 2018, Dhoni has executed the highest dismissals (1.04) per match in T20s, while Pant, who has often been compared to Dhoni, has 0.87 dismissals per match. However, when it comes to runs accumulated over the same period, Pant is well ahead and also scores at a much better pace.
Dhoni does not even make the cut when it comes to the top 10 Indian leading run-getters in T20Is, but the positive is that the likes of Iyer, Pandey, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan have scored heavily and are being rewarded with a place in the side.
In the bowling department, Khaleel Ahmed, who has played a handful of international matches gets a look in. His left-arm pace adds a bit of variation in the bowling department. India have also gone in for the raw pace of Navdeep Saini, who could be a handy weapon if there is a hint of swing on offer.
As far as the West Indies are concerned, they have not able to find their feet since Carlos Brathwaite took over as captain. Brathwaite, who made his name after he blasted Ben Stokes for four sixes in the final over of the World T20 2016, is however only second behind Sammy when it comes to leading West Indies to most wins in the format.
With so many changes to the side, it is difficult for any captain to find the right XI. However, the squad he has at his disposal right now, which is an excellent blend of youth and experience, could very well be the one that hands Windies their third World T20 title in 2020, but consistency is what they will seek over a prolonged period.
This series will see India travelling to the United States for the second time in four years. When they travelled in 2016, they played a two-match series, which ended in a 1-0 win for West Indies. The first game at Lauderhill was a high-scoring thriller that saw India fall short by just one run chasing 246 for a win. The teams will clash at Providence, Guyana for the third T20I, where West Indies and India have never faced off in T20Is before.
Having faced each other 11 times, India and West Indies have won five matches apiece. However, India have a slight psychological edge, having beaten the Windies three times in a row in 2018.
The road to ICC World T20 2020 has well and truly begun. Currently ranked number 9 in the ICC T20I rankings, the Windies will look to put away every obstacle that comes their way, starting with India. India, ranked fifth, will look to do the same. While India have been more consistent in the last couple of years, the Caribbean side are still a work in progress in that department.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini
West Indies: John Campbell, Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicolas Pooran, Kieron Pollard, Rovman Powell, Carlos Brathwaite (c), Keemo Paul, Sunil Narine, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas, Anthony Bramble, Andre Russell, Khary Pierre.