The Cricket World Cup is over. The next one is after four years. Plenty of ODIs will be played over the period, and a lot of them will be plain meaningless. After suffering World Cup heartbreak against New Zealand in the semi-final last month, India will start afresh in new ODI cycle in the lead up to 2023 World Cup, with the first game set to be played against the West Indies on Thursday at Guyana's Providence Stadium.
Meaningless or not, India, under Virat Kohli, will aim to put more misery on their opponents by extending the winning running run in the tour. The team has already completed a clean sweep against the Windies in the T20I series.
After conclusion of the third T20I, Kohli spoke about how it is too far to start thinking about the next World Cup. The motivation for him and his team going into the ODI series is not about preparing for bigger tournaments in the future, but it's about maintaining consistency.
"2023 is too far ahead to be honest," Kohli said during the post-match press conference after the third T20I. "You start looking forward to the World Cup and planning for it 12 months prior. Not four years away. I think the priority is to keep Indian cricket at the top. Play consistent cricket, go out there and win games."
"For us, the priority has always been to be one of the most consistent sides in the world and in the last three to four years, I think we've been able to achieve that," Kohli added. "We're the No 2 side in the world and there's a good reason to that. We've been at No 1 as well sometime. It's the kind of cricket that we've played that has gotten us up here."
The ODI series might lack context in the grand scheme of things, like preparing for the next World Cup, and the eventual result of the three-match series is likely to hold little importance, but Kohli, the over-aggressive, fight-till-the-end captain hates losing even if the stakes are not too high.
Despite the tour happening right after a gruelling World Cup, the Indian selectors decided against resting most of the senior players for the ODI series. From the World Cup squad, 11 members have been picked for the three 50-over matches, while only one player in the squad – Navdeep Saini – does not have a ODI cap. It's a strong squad with experience and balance that suggests India's objective is build on the dominance they have enjoyed over the past few years.
Domination should also be in the list of objectives for Kohli and he would look to achieve it right from the first ODI.
Shikhar Dhawan will make his return in the format after a thumb injury that ruled him out for the majority of the World Cup. He did feature in the preceding T20I series, but failed to make any impact of substance. Dhawan, though, loves the 50-over format and he will be hoping his bat will do the talking in the first ODI. Dhawan's return also means the team will return to Rohit-Dhawan-Kohli trio at the top of the innings.
The No 4 slot in India's ODI team has been up for grabs for the last two years and despite numerous tries, the team is yet to settle on a long term candidate for the position. The most ideal batsman in the current squad and the one likely to come after the fall of two wickets is KL Rahul. He started the World Cup at No 4 but was opened the innings in Dhawan's absence. Rishabh Pant is the wicket-keeper batsman in the team and Ravindra Jadeja will mostly play as an all-rounder on Thursday.
There's one more slot open in the batting order and – Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Shreyas Iyer – are the choices available for the 'Men in Blue'. While it might be tempting to include Jadhav in the XI. Although, Jadhav's slow bowling didn't feature often during India's World Cup campaign, his bowling might come handy on the sluggish West Indian tracks. The team management might also want to test a specialist like Shreyas, who has come into the squad on the back of good knocks with the 'A' team. If the team management is taking the bigger picture into consideration, then Shreyas' inclusion is plausible move and it would only be fair to give him a decent run.
On a surface that aided swing during the third T20I, India will likely to put forward three pacers and one spinner for the opening match. Both Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav are back in the squad, so it will be interesting to see who makes the cut in the playing XI. Saini's impressive showings in the T20Is might tempt Kohli to hand the fast bowler his debut ODI cap. With Jasprit Bumrah being rested for the series pacemen – Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami – will lead the attack and are two certainties in the fast bowling department.
Just like India, there no significant changes in West Indies' ODI squad from World Cup. Gayle, who had said he would be hanging his boots post the World Cup, went back on his statement, saying he would be featuring in the home series against India. The Jamaican will open the batting along with Evin Lewis. Gayle's aura has taken a hit and his consistency was an issue during the World Cup. He had a stellar home series against England earlier in the year, if he will be able replicate similar kind of form against India is left to be seen. With all-rounder Roston Chase returning into the squad, he will likely play as only spinner on Thursday ahead of Fabian Allen.
While the batting mainstay for West Indies is Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer. However, Jason Holder, will heavily bank on his pace bowlers to do the heavy-lifting. Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas and Kemar Roach along with Holder are crucial for West Indies' chances. If they can take the early wickets and put pressure on Indian middle-order then the game will be there for taking.
Two ODI matches were played last year at the same venue and team batting first won the games. As it was seen in the final T20I, the pitch might get slower as the match progresses so chasing can be tricky. Winning the toss and putting up a good score would be an ideal scenario. However, showers are predicted in the morning so that will also play into the minds of captains.
Conditions aside, and quality-wise Indian team is far superior than their opponents and if they can execute all their plans, Kohli's side are favourites to win the first ODI.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kedar Jadhav, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini
West Indies: Jason Holder (capt), Chris Gayle, John Campbell, Evin Lewis, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Roston Chase, Fabian Allen, Carlos Brathwaite, Keemo Paul, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas, Kemar Roach.
The match will start at 7 pm and will be live on the Sony Pictures Sports Network. The game can also be streamed on SonyLiv.