With West Indies comfortably notching up a victory in Pune against their much-fancied counterparts, the ongoing five-match ODI series has suddenly created a lot of buzz. By making India sweat in the last two matches, the visitors have not only enhanced their reputation as as limited-overs side, but the boys from the Caribbean have also highlighted a few of the grey areas in the hosts' camp. And going into the fourth ODI at the iconic Brabourne stadium in Mumbai on Monday, Virat Kohli and company will be under the pump.
Make no mistake, this Indian batting unit is top-heavy, and it has been a headache for the team management for a while now. In this series, especially in the last two matches, the failures of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have exposed the vulnerability of the middle order. At one end, Kohli has anchored the team with three back-to-back hundreds, but on two occasions, his efforts went in vain as India could not walk away with victory.
The middle-order conundrum has forced the Indian selectors to send out an SOS call to Kedar Jadhav for the final two matches of the series. The Maharashtra batsman was initially kept out of the squad due to his injury-prone nature. But with the series now level at 1-1, the stakes are high and desperate times call for desperate measures.
In the absence of an all-round option, India went with a different combination in each of their last three games. But now with Jadhav coming in, Kohli will have the liberty of dropping a specialist bowler in order to play an extra batsman. Khaleel Ahmed is likely to be the one to miss out on Monday, and his place will likely be awarded to Jadhav.
Time is running out for MS Dhoni as well. He simply cannot continue to feature in the team while being a non-performer with the bat. With Rishabh Pant ready to don the wicket-keeper's gloves in white-ball cricket, and middle-order batsman Manish Pandey waiting in the wings, Dhoni needs to justify his place in the side with the bat.
The Indian bowling unit did fairly well in Pune. Coming back into the team, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took a combined haul of 5 for 105 in 20 overs, highlighting their value in the Indian line-up. However, the hosts would have expected more from the two wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Come Monday, the management can actually think about playing Ravindra Jadeja to add more variety to the attack, while Jadhav's presence gives India another spin option as well.
In his post-match presentation speech in Pune, Kohli spoke about not letting the game drift away. In the third ODI, West Indies were reduced to 227 for 8 before Ashley Nurse and Kemar Roach stitched a valuable partnership to lift the visitors to a competitive 283. Those extra runs turned out to be the difference between the two teams and going forward, Indian bowlers need to learn the tactics of closing the game from those situations.
West Indies will be oozing confidence going into this fixture, and they would have understood by now that India are not entirely invincible at home. They key lies in maintaining discipline and hanging in there, like they have done in the last two games.
The visitors' line-up has looked a settled unit. The in-form Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer have shown the maturity and talent to deal with the versatile Indian attack, and have dominated the spinners in the middle overs. Any mistake committed by the Indian bowlers has been maximised.
Nevertheless, the form of Marlon Samuels has been a concern for the visitors. Also, No 6 batsman Rovman Powell seems to be an iffy player against quality spin.
Their bowling, despite its limitations, has been decent to say the least. While there is no 'X-factor' in their attack as such, the likes of Nurse, Roach, Obed McCoy as well as skipper Holder managed to keep the famed Indian batting order silent on Saturday.
Left-arm spinner Fabian Allen, who made his debut at Pune, was economical, although the West Indies should ideally look to bring the experienced Devendra Bishoo back at the Brabourne stadium, which will be hosting its first international match in nine years. The Allen-Bishoo swap is expected to be the only change in the Windies team.
Dew plays a pivotal role in a day-night game in Mumbai, which makes batting second a prescribed theory at this venue. Also, the boundaries at Brabourne are smaller than the neighbouring Wankhede, which is the epicentre of cricket in the city. With both teams packed with power-hitters, we could be in for another high-scoring contest.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli(c), Ambati Rayudu, Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni(w), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, K Khaleel Ahmed, Jasprit Bumrah, Kedar Jadhav, Lokesh Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Manish Pandey, Umesh Yadav.
West Indies: Kieran Powell, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Shai Hope(w), Marlon Samuels, Shimron Hetmyer, Rovman Powell, Jason Holder(c), Fabian Allen, Ashley Nurse, Kemar Roach, Obed McCoy, Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Keemo Paul, Oshane Thomas.
Time: 1.30 pm IST
Venue: Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai.