The series loss in South Africa notwithstanding, the Indian ODI team had built a reputation over the years; a reputation built on consistency and a top-order that could simply bat the opposition out of the match.

In overseas conditions, the spinners are not quite the factor but back at home, they are tough to get away and take wickets too. It makes India very difficult to play against and new skipper Rohit Sharma will be keen to see his side find its best rhythm as quickly as possible against the West Indies in the first ODI at Ahmedabad on Sunday.

The series-opener is the historic 1000th ODI for India, who would like to begin their preparations for the 2023 World Cup in right earnest after failing to win the coveted trophy in 2015 and 2019.

Over the course of the next few months, skipper Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid will look to underline the team’s new philosophy in the 50-over format. It might see them test out their theories and try out plenty of new players too but as long as they can finally find ways to fill the obvious gaps, the team will be in a good space.

For now, there are two main areas that the team would like to address: the absence of a settled middle-order batter and the struggle to get wickets during the middle overs. And the series against WI will be the perfect opportunity to take steps in the right direction.

Firstly, skipper Rohit, will have to prove his fitness in the middle and score some runs too. He has been one of the world’s best openers for a while now but if he can’t stay fit, he really can’t help the Indian team.

With KL Rahul unavailable in the first game, and other specialist openers Shikhar Dhawan and Ruturaj Gaikwad both testing COVID-19 positive, Ishan Kishan will open the batting with the skipper.

“Ishan Kishan is the only option we have and he will open with me,” Rohit said on the eve of the series-opener.

“Mayank (Agarwal) was added to the squad and he is still in isolation. He came (joined) late and we have some rules in place. If someone is travelling, we have to put them in (mandatory 3-day) quarantine. He has still not finished his quarantine, so Ishan will open the innings,” elaborated Rohit.

Secondly, after not getting enough opportunities in the SA series, Suryakumar Yadav will look to impress in the middle order. Save Rishabh Pant’s knock in the second ODI against SA, the middle-order never got going. At home, in known conditions, it will be a chance for someone to get settled in.

With Shreyas Iyer not available for the series, there is a chance for Surya and the equally formidable Deepak Hooda, who has had a decent outing in the last Vijay Hazare Trophy, to impress the national selectors.

Thirdly, India would love to see Virat Kohli get the big runs again. He is batting well but it will be great for the team to see him get to the three-figure scores again. If he gets going, the middle-order bats can take their time getting settled in.

In terms of bowling, the return of left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav is an interesting twist. He would most probably be in the playing XI along with his seasoned partner Yuzvendra Chahal.

The 27-year-old Kuldeep played his last ODI against Sri Lanka in July 2021, and recently recovered after undergoing surgery. His form hasn’t been great and this might be a good opportunity for him to get back in the mix on a more permanent basis.

The team management has included young Jodhpur-born googly bowler Ravi Bishnoi in the squad, and it would be interesting to see if he gets a game right away.

In the absence of key pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, who have been rested, the pace bowling unit has some interesting options. Shardul Thakur will be keen to make his mark with bat and ball. The series also provides a chance for young bowlers like Mohammed Siraj, Deepak Chahar, Prasidh Krishna and Avesh Khan to show what they are all about.

Meanwhile, West Indies would come into the context after their confidence-boosting T20 series win over England, although the format is entirely different.

The team from the Caribbean possesses a power-hitter Nicholas Pooran, who can turn the game on its head. He would also look to impress the franchises before the IPL auction.

He would however need support from others.

Also, the role of skipper Kieron Pollard and experienced all-rounder Jason Holder will be vital too.

Pollard and his men would be more than keen to spoil India’s party in their marquee clash.

Teams (From):

India: Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Surya Kumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar, Ravi Bishnoi, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Shahrukh Khan.

West Indies: Kieron Pollard (Captain), Fabian Allen, Nkrumah Bonner, Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph, Brandon King, Nicolas Pooran, Kemar Roach, Romario Shepard, Odean Smith, Hayden Walsh Jr.

Match starts at 1.30 PM.

(With inputs from PTI)