India and the West Indies have faced each other in six T20 Internationals over the last 13 months. From Lauderhill to Lucknow, these fixtures have produced the same result every single time — an Indian win.
So the ordinary fan might be forgiven any lack of enthusiasm when the two teams meet again this month, for a three-match T20I series that begins at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium here on Friday.
The West Indians have not arrived in the best of shape. Theirs is a relatively inexperienced outfit, fresh off a T20I series defeat to Afghanistan. A number of star names are absent, either through injury or other reasons.
Andre Russell has had his knee issues but was fit enough to play in the Abu Dhabi T10 league; Chris Gayle's future is unclear; and Sunil Narine has hurt his finger. A return to international cricket for Dwayne Bravo, who last played for the West Indies in 2016, has been spoken of but there has been no comeback yet.
The limited-overs captaincy has now been handed to Kieron Pollard, who dashed off to Abu Dhabi himself after the Afghanistan T20s last month.
Pollard has quite the task on his hands. But the West Indies skipper sounded upbeat on Thursday, happy to put his faith in an unproven unit. Opener Brandon King and leg-spinner Hayden Walsh, who has also represented the USA, are here on the strength of their performances in the 2019 Caribbean Premier League.
Lendl Simmons, who caused India much pain in that 2016 World T20 semifinal, is back in the fold after a two-year absence. In Alzarri Joseph and Sheldon Cottrell, West Indies has two good fast bowlers, while Nicholas Pooran, Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyer are competent batsmen.
T20 World Cup in focus
India will thus be cautious, aware that its own performances in T20 cricket have been far from spectacular. But Virat Kohli did not seem too concerned by India's results or ranking — currently 5 — in the shortest format.
Bilateral T20Is were an opportunity to experiment, he said on Thursday, a chance to give fresh recruits a taste of international cricket before easing them into more high-pressure environments.
But with the T20 World Cup on the horizon, Kohli was clear that India would field teams "as close to" its first-choice XI "as possible” hereafter.
Going by the captain's statements on Thursday, such a line-up would include two pace bowlers (from Deepak Chahar, Md. Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for this series), one wrist-spinner (Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav), a seam-bowling all-rounder (Shivam Dube until Hardik Pandya recovers), and two differing spin-bowling all-rounders in Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar.
Kohli insisted that having six bowling options was "a basic rule" in T20 cricket, which was interesting given that Rohit Sharma, who led India against Bangladesh, had fielded only five bowlers in the last T20I in Nagpur.
The top four
There is little doubt around the top four in India's batting order, with K.L. Rahul, Rohit, Kohli and Shreyas Iyer automatic choices here. Rishabh Pant, in whose defence Kohli spoke out at the pre-match press conference, will likely be persisted with.
Whatever eleven Kohli and the team management choose to field, India will start as the overwhelming favourite. West Indies has won only one bilateral T20 series in the last two years; it would require some effort from Pollard's men to triumph on these shores.
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