It has been two and half years since a T20 International was last played at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The last occasion was the World T20 final when four back-to-back sixes were hit in the last over as Windies achieved a triumph in an emphatic fashion. Interestingly, Carlos Brathwaite, the batsman who hit those glory shots will be leading the strong Windies team on Sunday evening in the first of three-match T20I series against Rohit Sharma-led Indian team.
The boys from the Caribbean are the current World Champion in this format. Though some of their T20 stalwarts are missing from the present squad, but despite that, this particular unit has enough firepower to provide the hosts a stiff challenge in a format in which they thrive. Six T20 specialists, including the likes of Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin and Darren Bravo have been brought in the 13-member squad, which also features youngsters like Shimron Hetmyer, Keemo Paul, Rovman Powell, who played in the ODI series recently.
"We have a new team, young exciting team and our CPL stars are young and are raring to go," skipper Brathwaite said about his boys on the eve of the match. "Some of them had a taste of it in the ODIs and I personally think we did a lot better than what a lot of people expected in the ODI format. We want to create an even bigger surprise in the T20s and come away with the trophy at the end of the series."
Meanwhile, star all-rounder Andre Russell was also picked in the squad initially, but because of a late withdrawal from the squad due to an injury concern, the 30-year old will miss the series. In his place Shai Hope has been added to the mix.
Nevertheless, the most exciting aspect about this new-look Windies T20 unit is the blend of youth and experience. There are as many as five uncapped players in the squad and three of them - all-rounder Fabian Allen, pacers Oshane Thomas and Obed McCoy - made their ODI debuts earlier on this tour. Clearly, keeping the 2020 World T20 in mind, the Courtney Browne-led selection panel is investing in young talents.
The most challenging part for the Windies in this series will be tackling India's spin-trio. During the second half of the ODI series, their batting struggled against the slow bowlers. So, learning from that experience their batsman should come up with a better gameplan this time around.
"Ultimately it's about execution," said Brathwaite. "However we have to respect [Yuzvendra] Chahal and Kuldeep [Yadav]. It's just not West Indies that they have spun a web around, they have done it to all teams who have come to India. We won't be fearing them. What they have done in the ODI series is very commendable. We have to find a way to maximise the overs they bowl."
Nevertheless, when it comes to experimentation in the team, India are not falling behind either. With no Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni in the squad, during these three matches the team management is expected to try out a few youngsters. For Sunday's game, they have already named the 12 and uncapped all-rounder Krunal Pandya and left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who made his ODI debut during the recent Asia Cup, feature in the list along with the usual suspects.
Through his IPL heroics for Mumbai Indians', Krunal, who in all likelihood will make his international debut on Sunday, is now a household name. Along with his handy left-arm spin, the 27-year old can be a destructive batsman towards the end as well. In this Indian line-up, with ball in hand he can be a perfect foil to the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
In the pace department, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will obviously be the first-choice options. Both will enjoy the pace and bounce of the Eden track. Keeping the dew factor in mind, the hosts should prefer three pacers here. In that case one of Kuldeep or Chahal will sit out. However, during India's practice session on Saturday, Bhuvneshwar was surprisingly not that active, which raised a few eyebrows.
The batting will depend on the Rohit-Shikhar Dhawan opening partnership. During the ODIs, Dhawan had five average innings. So, he would be eager for a big score and so will be KL Rahul, who couldn't feature in the XI in the 50-over matches. The audition in the middle-order will continue and the performances of Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik will be closely monitored. Irrespective of the format, this series provides an ideal opportunity for these players to get some useful scores under their belt and keep themselves in the scheme of things for the World Cup.
"Resting players is also necessary," said Rohit in his pre-match press conference. "Keeping in mind the work load, the World Cup ahead. We have to take those necessary steps. We have to see the guys who are knocking the door and what they bring to the table."
On Friday, both teams were greeted by unseasonal rain. Thankfully, the weather has cleared up in Kolkata and we are expecting a pleasant chilly evening on Sunday. The pitch was under the cover for a few days, but two days of sunshine will be enough to dry up the moisture underneath. It will be a true surface for the batsmen and strokeplayers from both teams will enjoy batting here. However, dew is expected to play a crucial role in this game and both teams will prefer chasing here.