In Manchester where its denizens dote on football, like it is in the rest of England, and are acrimoniously split between two clubs carrying the town’s name as prefix — United and City, the ICC World Cup has been at best, a pleasant distraction. Even the tabloids slot cricket from page 12 in the sports supplement while newsprint is largely devoted to the women’s football World Cup.
The hype around cricket here at Old Trafford has largely been restricted to the sub-continental diaspora and the sheer interest that Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have collectively displayed. In to this theatre of local indifference and the immigrant’s love for a British game, India and the West Indies will step in for Thursday’s clash.
Virat Kohli’s men are in a good space, having defeated rivals ranging from the established to the minnows. Even though the skirmish against Afghanistan busted nerves at Southampton’s Hampshire Bowl, India, like all efficient units, had the last laugh. Currently placed third on the table, the Men in Blue seem set to finish in the top four but the team management refused to think too far ahead.
Taking it one contest at a time and considering the joust featuring the men from the Caribbean Islands, as another essential incremental step, is the prevailing mantra. Surely, a triumph against Jason Holder’s men will strengthen the lone foot that has already sneaked past the semifinal’s door.
The lone lingering question was about Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s fitness but the medium-pacer seems to have recovered from his hamstring strain. On a bright Wednesday, the seamer bowled on the practice pitch and did exaggerated jumps while physio Patrick Farhart observed. The final word will be known at the toss but after Mohammed Shami's hat-trick against Afghanistan, the think-tank may be tempted to rest Bhuvneshwar.
The West Indies, meanwhile, has lost the momentum it gained from the opening win over Pakistan. Subsequently it lost four and the defeats to Bangladesh and New Zealand have been soul-sapping. If Holder and company tuck into the venue’s history, they might draw some inspiration. The great West Indian captain Clive Lloyd played for close to two decades with the home county Lancashire and his was a magnetic presence.
Holder has explosive batsmen in his arsenal, be it a Chris Gayle or a Carlos Brathwaite and is equally bolstered with the fresh quotient of Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran. The bowling too, relying on pace and bounce, has had its moments but beyond Sheldon Cottrell’s cute salute after bagging a wicket or pouching a catch, nothing else lingers. Still, this is a team that can test the very best and additionally familiarity breeds awareness.
Thanks to the Indian Premier League and the notes being exchanged, quite a few West Indian players are aware of the strengths and the rare chinks of this Indian team. There is respect too. When Chris Gayle was asked about M.S. Dhoni’s circumspect approach against Gulbadin Naib’s men, the great opener quipped: “I didn't watch the game. So I cannot comment on the legend.”
The stage is set, the sun is out and by Thursday evening, there will be some clarity on semifinal berths.
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