For a country that is at the forefront of the Twenty20 revolution of the game thanks to the Indian Premier League, Team India faces a significant hurdle in Mumbai on Wednesday in their continued quest to adapt to the game at the international level.
A resurgent West Indies side has exposed India’s weak areas in both the matches of the series so far but especially more so in the second Twenty20 International and now the two teams square off in what promises to be an enthralling series-finale at the Wankhede Stadium.
The series is locked 1-1 after two-time world champions West Indies turned up in style in the second T20I following a Virat Kohli special in the opener in Hyderabad. On both occasions, the visitors showed why their T20I rank is an anomaly and that, on their day, they can be a handful to any opposition.
As captain Kieron Pollard mentioned, the ICC rankings and past results of this team are not in his control and he can only look at what is in front of him: and what is in front of him is an Indian side that is seemingly struggling to adapt to the needs of the shortest format and still dependent on one or two special individual performances to win them games.
Battle of sixes
It is, perhaps, fitting that these two familiar rivals are playing out a series decider at the Wankhede. For starters, it is a familiar to venue to some of the West Indies stars: openers Lendl Simmons and Evin Lewis as well as captain Pollard have made their names here in the IPL. But there is also the additional spice added by the fact that this was the venue where West Indies shattered India’s best laid plans in the lead up to World T20 2016 and ended MS Dhoni’s hopes of repeating the feat of winning a world cup on home soil.
On that night, Simmons and Co hit 11 sixes in response to India’s four: that both teams scored 190-plus on the night but took completely different routes to get there was not lost on anyone watching the game. That aspect has been evident in this series too as West Indies smashed 12 sixes in response to India’s five in Thiruvananthapuram and only Kohli’s mad innings made the equation look slightly close in Hyderabad: 12 to 15.
One of the ways India can overcome West Indies is if they can up their own power-hitting game and among the few batsmen who can help bridge that gap is Rohit Sharma. But the Mumbai Indians captain is wary of such a tactic.
“This format is such that you have to take risks to get on the top,” Rohit said on the eve of the series-decider. “Again, for us, it will be important what we as a team can do. Not to try and replicate what the other team is doing or what the other team is trying to do. They back their strength, which is to play a few balls and then go after a big shot. But for us, it’s totally different. We believe in taking singles and doubles and putting the pressure on the bowler by getting eight-nine an over without taking risks.
“But again, we are prepared to take risks when it’s necessary. But, at the end of the day you want to play smart cricket. And that’s how we beat the opposition, by playing smart cricket. We believe in that. Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. But we like to back what we do as a team well, which is to play smart cricket.”
Another chance for youngsters
For India, the focus will also be on young guns like off-spinner Washington Sundar and under-pressure wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant.
The spotlight on Pant, especially, has been obsessive but he has the chance to put it right when he takes the field at the Wankhede Stadium, where he smashed a sensational 78 in the IPL to show why he is such a special talent worth backing.
Coming in at four or five, depending on the situation, Pant can have a decisive role to play in proceedings on Wednesday. He has impressed in flashes this series, playing a good cameo in Hyderabad before taking up the role of anchor in Thiruvananthapuram and staying unbeaten.
His last T20 fifty came against West Indies in August, in Providence. With the likes of Sanju Samson waiting in the wings, Pant will hope to add to that tally at a venue suited to his style.
Rohit Sharma, too, who has had two low scores, would be raring to go before his home crowd. KL Rahul and skipper Kohli are also among the runs. Shivam Dube, who slammed his maiden T20 fifty, showed he can hit towering sixes and he would want to perform before his home crowd too as would Shreyas Iyer.
However, bowling is a slight concern. The pace duo of Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have leaked runs in the first two matches.
Chahar had a memorable series against Bangladesh but has not managed to repeat the show this time around. With Mohammed Shami around, Chahar will have to step up.
It would also be interesting to see whether the team management persists with Washington or pairs Kuldeep Yadav with Yuzvendra Chahal, in an attempt to slow down the big-hitters of the West Indies, even though the Tamil Nadu spinner was the most effective among the slow bowlers in the second match.
Washington has taken only three wickets in the last five T20Is that he has played (two against West Indies and three against Bangladesh) and has conceded 144 runs in 23 overs that he bowled. He also ended up wicket-less in the two T20 Internationals against South Africa. His fielding is another aspect about which skipper Kohli would be worried about.
In the last game, he dropped a sitter of Lendl Simmons, whose 45-ball 67 laid the foundation of the West Indies’ eight-wicket triumph. He missed chances in the first game as well.
Also, India’s fielding has been way below par. The dropped catches and several mis-fields prompted Kohli to say if the performance does not improve, no score would be enough. The hosts are clearly good chasers but will need to learn how to defend targets.
West Indies will fancy their chances to clinch the series after the terrific comeback in the second match. The Wankhede is a special venue for players from both teams and there could, indeed, be a special game on the cards if India and West Indies can turn up at their best in the series decider.
Match starts 7 pm IST.