A tied game in Visakhapatnam and all of a sudden the ongoing ODI series between India and Windies has come to life. Following the meek surrender in the Test matches and a one-sided first ODI, no one expected the visitors to run India close. But primarily thanks to the heroics of Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer, the boys from the Caribbean bounced back emphatically and almost drew level in the series. In fact, India should consider themselves lucky they didn't lose the second ODI.
Nevertheless, this resurgence of the visitors, especially by their batting unit, has forced the hosts to recall their first-choice pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprirt Bumrah back in the squad, fully discrediting their prior plans of an experimentation. And in the third ODI on Saturday at the Maharashtra Cricket Association in Pune, both are likely to feature in the XI, replacing Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. The rest of the attack should remain the same.
After conceding 300 plus runs in back to back matches, the pressure will be on the Indian bowlers, especially on the much-talked-about spin-trio to spin a web around the Windies batters this time around. The two wrist-spinners - Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have bowled well in patches. But you got a feeling that at times the duo allowed Hetmyer and Co to get into their groove by being predictable. They haven't coaxed their power-hitter Hetmyer into hitting against the spin.
Following the memorable comeback in the limited-overs' set-up in the Asia Cup last month, Ravindra Jadeja too is yet to find his mojo as a bowler in this series.
The batting meanwhile, has gone about its business without much of fuss. With back-to-back hundreds, Virat Kohli has been batting in a different zone, as always; whereas his deputy Rohit Sharma too had scored a daddy hundred with an unbeaten 152 in the first game at Guwahati. Nevertheless, having missed out in the first two matches Shikhar Dhawan will be desperate to make an impact as well.
However, going forward, all eyes will be on the middle-order, where someone like Ambati Rayudu is currently auditioning for permanent No 4 spot. Also, there is no update regarding the minor injury which Rishabh Pant sustained in the last match. If he can't make it, India may look to experiment with Manish Pandey at No 6.
For the Windies, Stuart Law will be back in the dressing room on Saturday after serving his two-match ban. His inputs will be crucial for this relatively inexperienced team. Though following the efforts on Wednesday, there should a belief in the dressing room that this Indian team is not invincible.
It will be interesting to see whether they continue with Obed McCoy's left-arm seam or pick an extra spinner, the left-armer Fabian Allen, who is there in the squad.
For their batsmen, this time the task will be much stiffer against India's front-line bowling attack. With the new ball as well as in the death overs, the likes of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah will test them more than what Shami and Umesh did in the first two matches.
The visitors need to make sure that their batting is not over-dependent on Hetmyer and may to some extent on Hope. Others like Kieran Powell, Chandrapaul Hemraj and Marlon Samuels need to put their hands up as well. Samuels, with an experience of more than 200 ODIs under his belt, needs to take up a more responsible role. He looked out of sorts in the previous two innings. In fact, the way Kuldeep castled him in the last game, shows his lack of confidence against the spinners. It was kind of a wake-up call for him as well as the team management.
Just like the last game, toss will play a vital role, keeping the dew factor in mind. Last year, around the same time when India played New Zealand at this venue, the wicket seemed two-paced in the first half and under the lights, it became better to bat on. And we can expect a similar sort of track for this fixture as well. Hence, ideally, both teams should look to chase here. With Windies showing promise, we could be in for another intriguing contest.