If India were playing West Indies in Test cricket, this series might not even have been worth mentioning. In ODIs, consistency becomes a factor and the men from the Caribbean often fail in that regard. But in T20 cricket, it is difficult to rule out Kieron Pollard’s side.
This is a format that the West Indies have come to enjoy the most and when they are feeling it, they are a tough side to play. They have the firepower and the experience to beat any side on their day. And almost all their players are comfortable in Indian conditions too.
In a way, the challenge makes it a good series for India as they will be able to assess how well KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant are doing. With next year’s T20 World Cup not too far away now, the three-match T20 series, allows skipper Virat Kohli another opportunity to test the stragglers and the bench strength too.
In the absence of injured opener Shikhar Dhawan, the series will provide Rahul, who holds a good record in T20s, a very good opportunity to secure his place as Rohit Sharma’s partner up the order.
For too long has Rahul been accorded the tag of being the third opener in the side but his recent form in domestic cricket has been very good and he should use the opportunity to show that he is indeed a better option than Dhawan in this format.
In 31 T20 Internationals, Rahul has amassed 974 runs at an average of 42.74 with 110 not out being his highest score. He is also a prolific scorer in the IPL and has all the shots in the book.
Focus on Pant
While one can argue that India perhaps has an embarrassment of riches on the batting front, Rishabh Pant’s form with the bat and behind the stumps has thrown a spanner in the works of the Indian management.
On Friday, Kohli threw his weight behind the 22-year-old. “We certainly believe in Rishabh’s ability. As you say, it’s [also] the player’s responsibility to do well but our responsibility is to give him space, to support him. He should get support and it is disrespectful if you don’t get it,” Kohli said.
He added: “As Rohit [Sharma] said recently, he needs to be left alone, he is a match-winner. Once he comes good, you will see a very different version of him. He can’t be isolated to such an extent that he doesn’t do well. We are here to do things for him.”
But with Sanju Samson waiting in the wings, Kohli will also need to give the wicketkeeper-batsman from Kerala a proper opportunity. Pant has, of late, come under the scanner for his inconsistent form with the bat and poor glove work.
He is seen as the successor to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but after the conclusion of the ICC ODI World Cup earlier this year, Pant has endured a slump in form and was heavily criticised for throwing his wicket away on multiple occasions.
Even his glove-work came under heavy scrutiny and the left-hander was dropped in the longest format of the game and Wriddhiman Saha regained his place in the playing XI.
As VVS Laxman said recently, Pant will need to find a way of justifying the team management’s faith in him.
“The team management and the selection committee have passed on a strong message that we got a backup in the form of Sanju Samson. Rishabh Pant has been given a lot of opportunities and I’m sure that they will be communicating and giving him that security within that group,” Laxman had said. “But then ultimately the player has to justify the faith the team management, the selection committee has been imposing on him.”
Pant is certain to be the first choice wicketkeeper but in case he fails again, it remains to be seen whether the team management gives Samson an opportunity, which he certainly deserves.
Powerful bowling line-up
The good news for India is that Virat Kohli will return to lead the side after taking a break in the T20 series against Bangladesh.
On the bowling front, there are several notable comebacks with the likes of Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar returning to the side’s T20 setup.
The duo of Kuldeep and Chahal will most likely bowl together after a long time. It will be interesting to see how Kuldeep, in particular, fares when the batsmen are going after him. The left-arm wrist-spinner last featured in the shortest format in February 2019 against New Zealand.
The Indian pace attack looks menacing with the return of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.
Shami last appeared in a T20I in 2017, while Bhuvneshwar returns to the squad after recovering from a muscle problem. Bhuvneshwar’s last T20 was against the West Indies in the Caribbean in August this year.
The find of the Bangladesh series, Deepak Chahar, is also expected to play a big role alongside Shami and Bhuvneshwar in the past attack.
Weakened West Indies
West Indies, on the other hand, would be looking for revenge after being dismantled by India 3-0 in their own backyard in August. West Indies are already acclimatised to the conditions, having played Afghanistan in a full series in Lucknow.
Having been entrusted with the responsibility of captaincy, Kieron Pollard will look to lead from the front. With Nicholas Pooran ruled out of the first T20 because of a four-match ban for ball-tampering, the onus would be on Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer to guide West Indies batting line-up.
Besides, the Indians would also be wary of Roston Chase, who can make useful contributions with both bat and ball. Keeping in mind the T20 World Cup, the West Indies are also trying out various combinations and have drafted in quite a few new faces in the team.
The visitors have opted for young Brandon King, Khary Pierre, Sherfane Rutherford, Keserick Williams and Hayden Walsh Jr over experienced players like Carlos Brathwaite, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Deepak Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami.
West Indies: Kieron Pollard (captain), Fabian Allen, Brandon King, Denesh Ramdin, Sheldon Cottrell, Evin Lewis, Sherfane Rutherford, Shimron Hetmyer, Khary Pierre, Lendl Simmons, Jason Holder, Hayden Walsh Jr, Keemo Paul, Kesrick Williams.
Match starts 7pm IST.
(with inputs from PTI)