In February this year, India’s international calendar saw them play two bilateral series. Both were T20I contests, and both ended in defeat — a 2-1 reversal in New Zealand, and a 2-0 blank at home against Australia.
Remove those two losses, and India are undefeated in 13 T20 international assignments since September 2017 — nine bilateral series wins plus the Nidahas Trophy triumph in Sri Lanka in March 2018, and three drawn rubbers.
The 2-0 shutout against the Aussies, coming as it did at home, was a rare reversal. How rare? Remove that, and India are undefeated in eight bilateral T20I series at home since 2016 (six wins, two draws). Their win-loss record at home in this period, with the exception of that Australia series, reads 15-6.
T20Is or not, India, generally speaking, are quite decent when they play at home. How decent? Since October 2014 — a little over five years — they have hosted 30 bilateral series across formats. They’ve lost all of four. They’ve won 24.
This present home calendar, so far, has seen South Africa and Bangladesh visit these shores. The T20Is were quite tight — the Proteas came away with a creditable 1-1 draw, and Bangladesh tested India’s stocks in a 2-1 defeat. The Tests? There have been five of those, and India’s victory margins read thus: 203 runs, an innings and 137 runs, an innings and 202 runs, an innings and 130 runs, an innings and 46 runs.
This, basically, isn’t a great place to come visiting. We may be at the cusp of Christmas, but if you, as an international cricket team, are coming here to look for festive cheer, well, you’re entering the wrong party.
The latest visitors are West Indies, who play three T20Is and three ODIs in India over the coming two weeks. The ODIs, which come later, already look a bit of a foregone conclusion, especially with India opting to field a full-strength squad (minus the injured Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah). But it is the T20Is — which get underway on Friday — which present the biggest threat to India’s dominant run of results at home.
It ought to, right, since this is the reigning world champions in the format who are coming to town?
No, not quite. Not at all, in fact. Because since their sensational conquest of the World T20 in 2016, in this very country at that, West Indies have looked a rather different team.
They’ve played 39 T20Is in all since the fabled evening that was the 3rd of April three years ago — and lost 25. In 2019, they have contested three T20I series — two of them were 3-0 whitewashes at home, to England and India; the third, and most recent (less than three weeks ago), was a 2-1 defeat to Afghanistan, right here in India.
Not quite the stuff you would expect from the only two-time world champions in the format.
But while their continuing slide in the only version of the game they’ve bossed this decade is a factor, for sure, it gets negated by the other fact: This is a band of cricketers that lives on the crash-and-bang game — and they’ve done a lot of the crashing-and-banging right here in India.
At last year’s auction ahead of IPL 2019, a total of Rs 106.80 crore was spent on the purchase of 60 players; Rs 42.60 crore out of that kitty went towards the purchase of 20 overseas players. Of that Rs 42.60 crore, Rs 17 crore was spent on West Indians alone — and not a long factory line of purchases, just six of them.
Carlos Brathwaite fetched Rs 5 crore from the Kolkata Knight Riders, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicolas Pooran went for Rs 4.2 crore each (to Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab, respectively), while Sherfane Rutherford was snapped up by Delhi Capitals for Rs 2 crore. Oshane Thomas and Keemo Paul, meanwhile, received winning bids of Rs 1.1 crore and Rs 50 lakh, from Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals, respectively.
All told, IPL franchises spent Rs 2.83 crore per every West Indian bought at the auction in December 2018 — the corresponding figure for the 14 other overseas players bought on the day was Rs 1.83 crore.
They get a lot of value in this land, do the Caribbeans. And it’s not without reason.
Remove the Indians from the Indian Premier League, and try to pick an all-time IPL XI. There’s no way you’ll make one without Chris Gayle. Or Sunil Narine. Or Dwayne Bravo. Or Andre Russell. You’ll find Kieron Pollard quite hard to ignore too.
The first four of those mega-weight names are not part of the West Indies setup as things stand, while the last of them now finds himself at the helm of the team. It would’ve been something else for Pollard to have his fellow IPL big guns around — those four, together, comprise 433 IPL appearances, two Orange Caps, one Purple Cap, four MVP titles, six IPL crowns and a whole host of all-time records in the 12-year history of the competition.
Pollard, by himself, is a four-time IPL winner, with 148 caps to his name. Only three members of the Indian squad for this series can boast of more IPL caps: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja. In fact, only six of the Indian XV have played more T20 cricket overall than Pollard has in the IPL alone. That’s a wealth of experience.
And West Indies’ latest skipper isn’t alone. Look across the board, and despite featuring a bunch of promising up-and-comers, the West Indies T20I squad possesses enough names that have done some damage either in India, or to India, if not both.
Evin Lewis? He has two T20I hundreds to his name — both versus India, against whom he’s bludgeoned 242 runs in 6 T20Is at a strike rate of 180.59.
Lendl Simmons? His only T20I appearance against India in India, in a semi-final three years ago, saw him hit an unbeaten 81 off 52 balls to complete a 193-run chase — and while he may have been abetted by India’s suicidal overstepping, he did end India’s party at their home World T20. Not to forget, the only century of Simmons’ 232-game long T20 career, too, came in India (in a 2014 IPL game for Mumbai Indians against Kings XI Punjab).
Shimron Hetmyer? He doesn’t have too much to write home about in his nascent T20I career, but the first two limited overs internationals he played on Indian soil, barely a year ago, the left-handed dasher smashed 106 off 78 and 94 off 64 — knocks that compelled the IPL franchise led by the Indian captain to dole out the big money for him within two months.
Kieron Pollard? You’ve read above, but let’s reiterate: 148 IPL caps, four IPL titles, 2755 runs at a strike rate of 146.77.
To this, you add the potency of the new discoveries from the latest batch of the Caribbean Premier League: Brandon King blasted 496 runs to top the charts by a distance, and those runs came at a clip of 148.94; Hayden Walsh Jr was well clear atop the bowling leaderboard with 22 wickets from nine games (second-placed Imran Tahir finished with 16); Fabian Allen, a slow left-arm bowler with the ability to bat a bit when West Indies were in India a year ago, shellacked 177 off 79 balls at a strike rate of nearly 225 in the death overs alone; Khary Pierre, another orthodox left-armer, conceded only 7.15 runs an over in a season where 170 was topped 19 times in 34 games.
Put all of this together, and it makes for pretty decent reading, doesn’t it? So don’t rule out an upset. And definitely don’t rule out that this West Indies will, even for India with all their home might, be a threat.
This, after all, is West Indies’ favourite game. Remember their game.
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