Will it be Chris Gayle’s final one day international? Have India edged any closer to finding stability with the number four slot?
These are a few questions the ODI series was expected to address but one can safely deduce that we are no closer to finding decisive answers for either of the questions.
Midway through the World Cup, Gayle postponed his retirement to make himself available for ODIs in the ensuing series against India. Apprehensions on whether it was a personally motivated move arose, considering the veteran was two games short of eclipsing Brian Lara’s 299 matches and just 13 runs away from going past Lara’s tally of 10405 runs in ODI cricket.
Ahead of the third and final ODI at Port of Spain on Wednesday, Gayle has smashed both records but his dwindling form has brought about calls for the burly Jamaican to finally call it a day and let the younger brigade take charge.
Since the 2017 Champions Trophy, Gayle has opened for the Windies on 29 occasions, ahead of Evin Lewis’ 24 knocks, scoring 1185 runs at an average of 42.32.
While there is no doubt that the West Indies were justified in backing a man that has been a pillar for them over the years, the Caribbean side wouldn’t have done too badly had they kept one eye on building for the future.
It is there that Shai Hope’s name crops up. The gifted Bajan has come out to open the inning in 11 matches since the Champions Trophy and has averaged a sublime 95.55, making a strong case for him to cement his position at the top.
Joel Campbell and Sunil Ambris have grabbed their opportunities on many occasions and will be in the fray too as a host of talented young batsmen form a core going forward.
West Indies’ middle order also holds great promise if they can get the composition right. Considering Hope continues to figure at three, then a potent line-up can fill the following slots. Roston Chase is a proven Test player and one that displays a great sense of composure. With Hope bringing a similar skill set at three, Shimron Hetmyer or Nicholas Pooran could be an ideal ploy at number four. It will serve as a perfect mix of consolidation and explosiveness as Hope, Hetmyer, Chase, and Pooran feature in the same order.
Post Gayle’s retirement, if the top order bears exciting prospects for the West Indies, India are still left with a nagging migraine – who best suits the number four slot.
Large scale experimentation has borne little fruit as was seen during the World Cup. Vijay Shankar, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant were all earmarked for the crucial position with none doing enough justice. Since, skipper Virat Kohli has been very vocal when backing Pant as India’s preferred number four batsman despite the left-hander’s temperament costing him his wicket regularly.
In lieu of quickly settling the squad for the next World Cup, there have been two players – Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill -- vehemently knocking on the selectors’ doors but neither have been given a long enough rope or enough recognition as yet.
In his last six ODI innings, Shreyas has scored three classy half centuries, proving he’s primed and ready for the big stage. Gill on the other hand fell short of making his mark when given the opportunity away at New Zealand last year. But in recent India A series’ against Sri Lanka A and West Indies A, Gill has been prolific while opening the batting. The 19-year-old averaged 58.50 in eight outings at an impressive strike-rate of 101.73.
Unlike how plans for the number four slot were bungled up for the 2019 World Cup, Indian selectors may want to be more pragmatic in Gill’s case to open the batting considering Shikhar Dhawan will be 38 years old by the next quadrennial.
Shreyas, Gill, Manish Pandey, and KL Rahul are looking more and more likely as the players India will have to hone down to a T. Lacklustre planning and preparation will not bode well for the administration especially since the next World Cup will be hosted in the subcontinent.
As the West Indies look to bring parity to the series, inclement weather is likely to play spoilsport on Wednesday. Damp conditions and a wicket that only gets slower under overcast skies could once again hurt West Indies’ chances of emerging triumphant at the venue for the first time in 11 years.