When India plays the West Indies in the upcoming ODI series, provided they know their history, the performance of their team in the Caribbean is something they would seek to put right. India has characteristically underperformed in the West Indies and has only won a single ODI series out of the five played. Considering the fact that India is challenging for a spot at the top of the ODI rankings while the West Indies remain mired in the bottom of the table, another defeat would be difficult to explain.
Coming of the back of an embarrassing exit at the Super Eight stage of the T20 World Cup, where the ineptitude of the Indian batsmen against the bouncer was starkly exposed, this tournament should serve as a chance for redemption. The Indian fans showed extreme displeasure with the captain after the T20 exit and Mahendra Singh Dhoni will need to be at his best to prove he is still the best choice for the captain, if only to appease a volatile public. There is also the challenge of re-adapting to the 50 over format of the game after most of the players were involved in the IPL and then the T20 World Cup.
The West Indies also are eager to prove that reaching the semi-final of the T20 World Cup was no fluke and that they are capable of continuously putting in a strong showing against opposition ranked higher than them. Any series against India is usually eagerly anticipated and keenly followed in the Caribbean and with the West Indies record in the 50 overs game against India the fans will be expecting more of the same. This series, as with many others before it, is another chance for the West Indies to shake off the inconsistencies that plague them and bring good form into the series against Bangladesh and also for the Australian tour later in the year.
As previously noted, the short ball was the most effective weapon against the Indian batsmen and was the tactic used by the West Indian bowlers in their last meeting. The question that must be asked though is whether that tactic is still the best one to use. The Indian batsmen will surely have done work in the nets specifically aimed at combating and scoring runs against short pitched bowling. Whether they had enough time to put right the glaring deficiencies remains to be seen. Another problem for the West Indies lies in the fact that their quickest bowler, Fidel Edwards, is out of the series injured and the effectiveness of the other fast bowlers with the short ball is yet to be determined.
The Indian batting lineup remains deprived of its most successful batsmen in recent times against short bowling, namely Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. This would seem a huge blow to lose players of this caliber but such is the strength of the Indian first-class system that replacements were readily and confidently found. The fact that Ravindra Jadeja and Rohit Sharma were retained after taking much of the blame for the loss against England shows that the Indian selectors have faith in the youth and are willing to give them an extended run in the side.
Considering the lack of experience in the batting lineup much will depend on Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir to provide the runs and bat for long periods. Gambhir in particular will be expected to score at the top of the order so as to build a platform to ease the pressure for the younger batsmen when they arrive at the crease. Yuvraj has performed against the West Indies in the past and India will hope he remains in the form he showed over the last two months.
Much of the speculation about the Indian batting lineup focuses on whether Dhoni will bat higher in the order or remain in the middle order. Of the batsmen who have previously played against the West Indies on this tour Dhoni has the highest average. This, however, was before he was given the role of captaincy and reformed himself into a more sedate batsman in complete contrast to the swashbuckler he used to be. The Indian fans wish to see more explosive batting from him but he is unlikely to be swayed from his role as a stabilizer if he believes that this is the role in which he is most beneficial to the team.
The West Indies have questions to answer about the top order and in particular, who will partner Chris Gayle at the start of the innings. Poor performances cost Xavier Marshall and Andre Fletcher, while Sewnarine Chattergoon is given a chance with the ‘A’ team on his return from injury. More confusing is the lack of a place for Lendl Simmons. This leaves Shivnarine Chanderpaul as the only person who has regularly opened in ODI matches before and his record with Gayle is among the best for recent West Indies opening partnerships. However he has shown a fondness for the middle order and considering his success at this position it seems difficult to ask him to relinquish it.
Runako Morton comes into the side on the basis of a strong first-class season whether this will transfer into performances at the international level remains to be seen. Also given a chance on the basis of a strong first class season is Narsingh Deonairne who finished as the highest run-scorer in the tournament. He will be hoping to cement a place provided he is given a chance to play, after being unable to get a start on the tour of England. Darren Bravo is also called to his first series with the West Indies and will be hoping to emulate his brother Dwayne by becoming a permanent fixture in the side. He has already been touted as the next Brian Lara which seems a somewhat unfair millstone to hang on the neck of someone so young, but it may serve as inspiration to perform.
The bowling depends on Jerome Taylor to lead the largely inexperienced quicker bowlers. His form has been patchy as of late, but provided he finds form then his ability to continuously bowl lethal deliveries could be decisive. While Lionel Baker and Ravi Rampaul have international experience, Baker is still new to the team and Rampaul has had a promising career disrupted by injury. Both will be looking to make a name for themselves against batsmen notoriously inept against fast bowling, but they should be careful not to get carried away.
Sulieman Benn remains the only specialist spinner in the team and will be expected to restrict the batsmen in this form of the game. His control has developed tremendously over the last year and the bounce he gets from bowling at his height is troublesome for many batsmen. Chris Gayle is the only other slow bowler in the side and should bowl in tandem with Benn.
In this form of the game, the batting is extremely dependant on Chanderpaul and Sarwan to make big scores. The stability provided by these batsmen in a team notorious for their brittleness cannot be underrated and long innings from either of these players should get the West Indies on the way to defendable targets. They both have a high average against India and Chanderpaul especially is always in the runs when India is the opponent.
Chris Gayle has the capability of singlehandedly turning a match and if he gets into his stride India will have a job containing him. His troubles against spin are well documented but against Sri Lanka he showed that he was capable of coping with the best spinners in the world while the rest of the team wilted. The team will hope this continues. In Bravo they also have a player who can change the game by himself, as he did against the same opponents in the T20 World Cup. His batting against the spinners is assured and his footwork and running between the wickets are an example to several of his teammates.
The Indian fast bowling also has a look of inexperience, with Zaheer Khan being ruled out of the tour. RP Singh has played for India before though and like Ashish Nehra who many had consigned to the past players category, has benefitted from strong performances in the IPL. They will both be hoping to extend their careers after resurrecting them. It remains to be seen who will share the new ball with Ishant Sharma who has matured into one of the best young fast bowlers in the world.Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha remain in the squad as the specialist spinners and their bowling could be the determining factor in the game. They are capable of turning a game India’s way and in tandem could successfully pick up several wickets while continuing to keep pressure on the batting line-up. Whether the West Indies have successfully learned to bat against quality spin bowling remains to be seen, but after their performance against Sri Lanka it seems unlikely that the coach would not have put such spin specific training sessions as the first thing on his list.