Windies' resurgence in the fourth One-Day International in Antigua caught everyone by surprise, with Jason Holder's team peppering the Indian batsmen with a volley of short balls to successfully defend a low score. Aside from the fact that the hosts can now stave off a series defeat, the result has helped restore the interest levels in the ongoing series.
There were a few similarities between the Indian innings in the fourth one-dayer and that at the Oval in London on 18 June. On both occasions, the top-order failed to click as a unit, exposing the middle and lower-order which led to the latter crumbling to sustained pressure. The only difference on this occasion was fight shown by the likes of opener Ajinkya Rahane and middle-order pillar MS Dhoni, both of whom put up slow-paced fifties to take the game to the last couple of overs.
The recent weeks have not quite been ideal for captain Virat Kohli. His spat with now-former head coach Anil Kumble, which resulted in the latter resigning, has made him something of a villain in the eyes of many, especially former cricketers, and he now has to deliver results as a captain in order to retain the fanfare that has made him one of the most successful cricketers in the world. Kohli thus will have to help his teammates shrug off the disappointment of the loss and reinvigorate them into giving their best performance on Thursday.
With a series victory at stake in the final ODI, there is no room left for experimentation as far as the Indian team are concerned, and the team management might be inclined in getting tried and tested members of the squad such as Yuvraj Singh, who was replaced by Dinesh Karthik in the last game, back into the team.
Ravindra Jadeja, who came in at Ravichandran Ashwin's expense in Antigua, went wicketless in the only opportunity that he has got so far in the series. Let's not forget the rash shot that he played to get himself out at a stage when the Indians needed to just play percentage cricket to keep themselves in the chase. Thus, one might just see Ashwin pairing up with Kuldeep Yadav, who has been a revelation this series, and is making a decent case for limited-overs selection with a tally of eight wickets at 15.25.
Opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan, who found himself among the runs once again in the recent Champions Trophy, seemed to have carried his golden form over from the mega-event in the first two games. However, he fell for low scores in the third and fourth ODIs. Despite faltering in the last two games, he still is the second-highest run-getter in the series, and will hope to sign off on a positive note come Thursday. As will Kohli, who hasn't quite found consistency in any format since the Test series against Australia earlier this year.
The energy levels in the Windies dressing room though would measure a lot higher than what it has been in the last couple of months. After missing out on a spot in the Champions Trophy, which was then followed by the disappointment of having to share the honours with Afghanistan in the ODI leg of the latter's tour, the prospect of restricting the highly-rated Indians to a stalemate would bring about a much-needed dose of positivity.
Having said that, the hosts aren't likely to tinker around too much with their winning combination, and it wouldn't come as a surprise if Holder announces an unchanged XI at the toss in Kingston. The bowlers, led by the efforts of their captain, did a terrific job of minimising the scoring opportunities for the Indian batsmen in the last game, and targeted the traditional Indian weakness against short balls to their advantage.
The inclusion of pacer Kesrick Williams in the team in place of the more experienced Miguel Cummins proved to be a useful change, and the former repaid the faith that the team management put in him with a clinical display in the penultimate over of the Indian innings, getting rid of an established match-winner in Dhoni off the last ball. The bowling unit therefore, is likely to stay in the final game, as is the case with the batting order.
"It's not lack of talent. I have seen these boys from close quarters for a while now, and it's definitely not lack of talent," is what Windies coach Stuart Law had said after their win, adding that his side had beaten two of the top teams in the world in recent weeks — the other being Pakistan. All that the hosts need is to rally themselves ahead of the crucial game, and prove to their fans as well as the rest of the cricketing world that they still are a force to reckon in this era.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja.
West Indies: Jason Holder (c), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Kyle Hope, Shai Hope (wk), Alzarri Joseph, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Ashley Nurse, Rovman Powell, Kesrick Williams.
Venue: Sabina Park, Kingston.
Time: 7.30 PM IST