On 27 August 2016, 489 runs were scored in 40 overs when India and West Indies locked horns in a T20I at Lauderhill, Florida. We witnessed something special from Evin Lewis and KL Rahul, both of whom slammed glorious centuries. Records tumbled at ease; the match saw 32 sixes smashed, a record that still hasn’t been broken and Rahul also became the fastest Indian to score a T20I century (46 balls) during his knock.
Three years on and a colossal top order battle will unfurl yet again as India are slated to play the ‘Maroon Brigade’ at the same venue on Saturday, August 2.
The match in 2016 was a perfect entertainment package and it might get more flair as West Indies have recalled the dynamic duo of Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard back to the T20I fore. “The team is young, and we like to mix the experienced players with the youth. We have a very good blend. It should be a very exciting weekend, lots of entertainment for the fans,” Windies head coach Floyd Reifer told Cricket West Indies’ official website as the side geared up for Saturday’s game.
Yes, he is correct! With the likes of Evin Lewis, Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer, Pollard, Andre Russell, Carlos Brathwaite, and Narine up against an equally devastating batting line-up in the form of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rahul, and Rishabh Pant there should be no dearth of action and drama.
Having said that, India’s main headache will be regarding Rahul’s batting position. With the return of Dhawan after an aggravated thumb injury, he is expected to take his usual opening slot. And Virat Kohli will bat at number 3.
However, if you go by the numbers, Rahul has a better strike rate (145.9) and average (43.81) compared to Dhawan whose strike rate is 136.5 and average 25.8 while opening the batting in T20Is. In addition to that, Dhawan’s sudden dip in form in 2019 doesn’t help his cause.
After joining Kings XI Punjab in 2018 and getting a chance to open the batting, Rahul grabbed the opportunity with both hands, racking up 1252 runs at a strike rate of 146 in two Indian Premier League (IPL) seasons.
Shreyas Iyer should get an opportunity to cement his place at the number four slot. He is coming into this series on the back of an impressive IPL season where he led his team Delhi Capitals into the knockouts for the first time since 2012. He, himself, played a big role with the bat - notching up 463 runs at an average of 30.9. Although he batted at a strike rate of less than 120, he has the skill-sets to match caution with aggression.
With MS Dhoni on the verge of calling it a day, Pant has a great opportunity to cement his spot as the wicketkeeper-batsman at number 5. In the few opportunities he got during the backend of the ICC World Cup 2019, Pant showed glimpses of the bright future he has ahead of him.
He was often termed a rookie who lacks temperament. Yet, watching him bat against New Zealand in the semi-final, it looked like he had the temperament and skill but just needs to adapt better to different circumstances.
On the bowling unit, it’s going to be a learning curve for Deepak Chahar. The 26-year-old has been exceptional for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, especially in the Powerplay overs, a period in which he not only takes wickets but also gives away only a few runs.
Rahul Chahar might get a look in given West Indies’ propensity against spin. Googly is one of his lethal weapons and the Windies batsmen have succumbed to a googly off every 6.4 balls, the worst rate after Ireland. The younger Chahar played a pivotal role in Mumbai’s fourth IPL title, having picked 13 wickets at a healthy average of 23.9 in IPL 2019. If picked, Krunal Pandya and he will take care of the middle overs.
Royal Challengers Bangalore speedster Navdeep Saini could join Bhuvneshwar Kumar and take leadership of the death overs. In IPL 2019, Saini took 8 wickets in 11 matches at an economy rate of 9.1, better than international players such as Lasith Malinga, Mohammad Shami, and Bhuvneshwar . Don’t be fooled by his high economy rate as he bowled in the toughest of conditions and without much support from the other end.
But for someone like Khaleel Ahmed, its showtime, a perfect opportunity to secure his place for the upcoming World T20. Until now, Khaleel has played nine T20I and taken 10 wickets. He would like to improve his average of 32.1 and there’s no better occasion than in an away series against a mercurial Windies batting line-up.
On the contrary, West Indies will have to fill the void of ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle at the top of the order; will they use Narine as a pinch-hitter or go with a proper batsman?
Promoting Pooran to the opening slot is also a viable option. The 23-year-old is entering the series on the back of a good World Cup and during a short stint at Kings XI Punjab, he showed a glimmer of his expertise with a strike rate of 157 in IPL 2019.
It is too early to be dependent on Hetmyer, but the left-hander needs continued backing from his team and captain to perform to the best of his ability. This can only happen if he confronts pressure situations on the field of play.
With Pollard back, they have certain solidarity in the middle overs. The big-hitting Trinidadian has a strike rate of 144 and an average of 34 against spin which is an indication that he can take the spin threat to the cleaners.
Windies suffered a huge blow when Russell made himself unavailable for the first two T20Is due to a ‘certain discomfort’ and now the question is if they prefer Rovman Powell, who has played 20 T20Is but is yet to shine, or a fresh face like Anthony Bramble.
Reifer, speaking about the squad selection, had said:“Bramble has been around first-class cricket for a while, and he has played some very good innings for Guyana. He toured with the West Indies B team to Canada and did a great job as captain. You can see how eager he is to get out there in the park and perform at this level.”.
West Indies’ bowling look sorted, especially in the first six overs, but their main headache will be the middle period which is a crucial juncture in any form of cricket. In the current squad, Keemo Paul is the only bowler who can outfox the opposition with his wily variations.
There is no guarantee about Narine’s future. He may not be a part of next year’s World T20 as he has lost his potency with the ball after re-modeling his action. Hence, this is a big series for him to prove that he’s still among the best T20I spinners in the world.
For India, it’s about starting from scratch and rebuilding a team for the future. A few vacant spots need to be filled before the World T20. West Indies already have a team and now it’s a matter of fine tuning and finding the right balance.
All in all, we’ve got a riveting contest on our hands with the willow likely to win the battle, given that the average run rate at this ground is around 8. If the pitch is no different this time too, we will get to see another run-fest which might result in a few records being broken again.