David taking on Goliath. That’s what the West Indies versus India limited overs series was being seen as from the very beginning. On one hand was a team struggling to stay relevant in cricket’s high table, floundering in the abyss of mis-governance, talent flight and the resultant mediocrity. On the other was a team at the height of its powers, playing nearly perfect cricket, under a captain who could well be a case study for leadership skills in leading B-schools and a favourite reference point of motivational speakers. However, unlike the Biblical story, there has been no triumph of the underdog. And it doesn’t look like there would be any in the future, at least in this series. Goliath has trampled over poor, helpless David, in the action that there has been, as expected, one may add.
India are not only 2-0 up in the series, but the margin by which they had brought up those victories – 105 runs and 93 runs – speak about the dominance that they have had. The Windies tour could be seen as a nice, relaxing vacation for the Indians helping them recover from the trauma of losing the Champions Trophy final to arch rivals Pakistan earlier in June. It reminds you of something which all of us would have done in our younger days, which is to pick a weak opposition in a computer game and pummel it repeatedly, gaining a sadistic satisfaction, especially after you have had it difficult against a tougher rival.
There is nothing substantial to gain from such bravado against a hapless opponent; after a point of time when the stuffing gets beaten out of your opposition, you tend to have mercy. In professional sport, however, the day you start to have mercy on your opposition, you lose your edge. So there is bound to be more battering that the Windies can expect and what they would want to avoid is more humiliation.
India, though, would be hard pressed to make the series more meaningful than what it has been. They have gone to the Caribbean with a full-strength squad, with only Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, being rested. However, this series is a great opportunity to give some valuable game time to the reserve bench.
The tour is, therefore, of special interest for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammad Shami, Kuldeep Yadav and Dinesh Karthik, while the mighty talented Rishabh Pant would be eager to show his wares.
Rahane has the responsibility of opening the innings with Shikhar Dhawan, in the absence of regular opener, Rohit Sharma, and has given a great account of himself in the opportunities he has had. His 104-ball 103 at Port of Spain provided a fantastic sheet anchor for Virat Kohli’s blitzkrieg later on, that propelled India to a 300-plus total in a mere 43 overs.
In the next match, at Antigua, Rahane held the innings together. A score of 72 off 112 balls may seem to be too slow for this day and age, but consider the circumstances in which that knock was played, and its value would increase manifolds. After the side had lost two early wickets, one of them being that of the talisman, Kohli, you needed someone to hold one end up, on a pitch which was damp, had variable bounce and was not conducive for stroke play. It was a task right up Rahane’s alley and he played the role to a nicety, laying a solid foundation for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav to bludgeon the bowlers later on.
Kuldeep had grabbed the chance he has got with both hands as well. A left-arm Chinaman bowler in the ranks is a huge boost to the team in terms of variety, and after Kuldeep’s phenomenal international debut in the Dharamsala Test against Australia earlier this year, a lot is expected of him every time he comes on to bowl. His returns for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League (IPL) also bolstered his CV.
With a good showing in the ongoing series, Kuldeep can exert pressure on the two frontline spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who have not exactly set the stage on fire in the Champions Trophy in England. And he has started well, with two consecutive three-fors. The way he drew Roston Chase forward and beat him in the air and off the pitch with a wrong ‘un is the stuff of dreams. He is a genuine wicket-taker and must be an integral part of the scheme of things in the run up to the World Cup.
Shami, on the other hand, had not had a game in the Champions Trophy, but again, is an extremely potent weapon in India’s armoury, keeping the World Cup in mind, and especially the fact that the showpiece tournament will be hosted in England, in conditions that will suit the kind of trade that Shami plies.
Karthik was in his elements against Bangladesh in the warm up to the Champions Trophy falling just short of a century, and had been in fine touch in the IPL and the domestic season, and it will be a mistake to not give him a go in this series.
However, the biggest mistake will perhaps be if the hard-hitting wicket-keeper-batsman Pant doesn’t get an opportunity. He had shown in the U-19 World Cup last year and in domestic cricket the damage he is capable of doing with the bat. The IPL was further proof of his abilities, and now with two matches of the series to go, and a Windies comeback in the series looking as improbable as the sun rising from the west, this is the right time to give Pant a run. Well, not just give him a run, but unleash him on a meek opposition.
With an A tour to South Africa coming up in July-August, the Indian selectors will be able to look at a huge pool of talent to make plans for the immediate future and the World Cup beyond that. The India A team will take part in a triangular one-day series, also involving South Africa A and Australia A and then play two four-day matches against South Africa A.
There is nothing much for India to achieve in this series other than collect some easy rating points and gain some good match practice, and if morning shows the day, they will win the series without breaking much of a sweat. In all probability, Kohli and Co will seal the series on Sunday itself and they don’t need to play a full-strength team to do that.
The changes that can be effected for Sunday’s match could be Pant at the top of the order, in place of Dhawan, who has been in blistering form, and may be given a well-deserved rest. Or if Kohli feels Dhawan must be played so that he can make the fullest use of his purple patch, Pant can be accommodated in the middle order in place of Jadhav, or even Dhoni. Karthik, on the other hand, may be accommodated in place of Yuvraj Singh, who has been a bit scrappy since that swashbuckling 32-ball 53 against Pakistan in India’s opening match in the Champions Trophy.
The best that the Windies, on the other hand, can hope for is some inspiration from somewhere… anywhere. But even that may not be enough. They seemed to have hit upon a reasonably good strategy of countering Kohli with the short ball, but rest assured that the Indian captain will have a counter ready on Sunday.
The Windies clearly lack depth and experience in the side. They can have sporadic moments of glory, like the spectacular catches by Kyle Hope and Devendra Bishoo and the hostile spell to Kohli in the third ODI, but they can’t keep sparring against a quality international side for a long period of time. This is where the Windies would be missing their superstars in Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree, Andre Russell, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Carlos Brathwaite and Kemar Roach, who are not available for one reason or the other. That’s almost a full starting eleven. Add them to the side and the Windies would be a world beater. But alas, that is not to be.
Had those big names been around, India would not have been so relaxed, but for the moment, they should concentrate on using the remainder of the series for practice in preparation for tougher assignments in the future and ultimately the World Cup in two years’ time.
India: Virat Kohli(C), Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Dinesh Karthik.
West Indies: Jason Holder(C), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Kyle Hope, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Ashley Nurse, Kieran Powell, Rovman Powell.