Motivation is Team India’s biggest challenge in the West Indies

Match facts

Date and time: June 23 (Friday), 9:00 local, 18:30 IST
Venue: Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad

The main picture

In recent times, series against the West Indies (home or away) have been less important for Team India, along with their annual tours of Zimbabwe. And this five-ODI series, which will be followed by a one-off T20I, isn’t significant either. One of the objectives for Virat Kohli and co. will be overcoming the disappointment of losing to Pakistan in the Final of Champions Trophy 2017. For Jason Holder’s men, however, this home ODI series is the second-last before the September 30 cut-off date for ICC World Cup 2019 qualification and on which day, they need to be in the top 8 of the ICC ODI team rankings, to qualify directly for the next installment in England. Needless to say, they will not be in a more crunch situation.

West Indies are unchanged for the first two one-dayers, from the drawn ODI series against Afghanistan earlier this month. They only have two centurions—Evin Lewis and wicketkeeper-batsman Shai Hope, who have an ODI century apiece—in their entire squad. The bowling attack lacks the pace and consistency of the injured spearhead Shannon Gabriel, but Alzarri Joseph, Holder and Ashley Nurse (off spinner) will look to tie the Indian batsman down by bowling disciplined lines and lengths. The West Indian bowling attack does not seem to have the penetration to trouble the Indian batting line-up.

Talking about the Indian batting line-up, you can expect a handful of changes for this five-ODI series. Rohit Sharma has returned to India following the completion of the eighth edition of Champions Trophy, meaning an opener’s slot is vacant. And Jasprit Bumrah joined his Mumbai Indians’ skipper on the flight back to India from London. The Gujarat pacer’s place is also up for grabs. Rohit and Bumrah’s squad replacements are Rishabh Pant and Kuldeep Yadav, two youngsters who were kept in the backup, along with Dinesh Karthik, for the Indian Champions Trophy squad.

Unless the West Indians raise their game, we are unlikely to get a contest because of India’s overwhelming supremacy. While the hosts will look to and have to bridge the gulf in class between them and their visitors, for India, their biggest challenge on this tour will be motivating themselves. A lot has been spoken about the vacant head coach position in the Indian cricket team and the man who engineered Anil Kumble’s resignation, but the playing group is unlikely to be perturbed. The team will be overseen by Maturi Sridhar, the BCCI general manager.

The key men

Left-handed opening batsman Evin Lewis has the experience and the skill-set necessary to get his team off to good, quick starts. He has been around the circuit for a considerable period, scoring a T20I century against India in 49 balls in Florida last year and also making his mark as a Trinidad and Tobago player during the 2013 edition of the Champions League held in India. Lewis needs to have a great series with the bat for the West Indies to cause an upset.

Unlike the home team, India will not be looking at key men and game-changers. Because, this is the type of series which presents the perfect opportunity for youngsters like Rishabh Pant to be included. The Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman had a terrific IPL 2017, but one-day cricket is a different ball game in which he has to bat time as well, to go with scoring runs. He will get good balls from time-to-time, so Pant’s focus cannot be on hitting fours and sixes alone. Presuming Pant makes his ODI debut, he will be a player to watch out for from the Indian side.

West Indies vs India playing XIs

Miguel Cummins and Kesrick Williams, two fast bowlers, might sit out the first ODI.

Possible playing XI for West Indies: 1. Jason Holder (c), 2. Evin Lewis, 3. Kieran Powell, 4. Roston Chase, 5. Shai Hope (wk), 6. Jonathan Carter, 7. Jason Mohammed, 8. Rovman Powell, 9. Alzarri Joseph, 10. Ashley Nurse, and 11. Devendra Bishoo

Actual playing XI for West Indies: 1. Jason Holder (c), 2. Evin Lewis, 3. Kieran Powell, 4. Roston Chase, 5. Shai Hope (wk), 6. Jonathan Carter, 7. Jason Mohammed, 8. Miguel Cummins, 9. Alzarri Joseph, 10. Ashley Nurse, and 11. Devendra Bishoo

I’ll be very surprised if Kohli does not make at least three to four changes from the XI which took the field last Sunday. Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Shami and Ajinkya Rahane were the three players who remained unused over the course of India’s Champions Trophy campaign, and at least two of them might come into the playing XI.

Plus, you might well see Ravichandran Ashwin making way for Kuldeep Yadav and Yuvraj Singh potentially being sacrificed for the exciting Pant. These are the possible changes in the Indian playing XI for tomorrow’s first ODI.

Possible Indian playing XI: 1. Virat Kohli (c), 2. Ajinkya Rahane, 3. Shikhar Dhawan, 4. Yuvraj Singh/Dinesh Karthik/Rishabh Pant, 5. MS Dhoni, 6. Kedar Jadhav, 7. Hardik Pandya, 8. Ravindra Jadeja, 9. Mohammed Shami, 10. Umesh Yadav, and 11. Ravichandran Ashwin/Kuldeep Yadav

Actual playing XI for India: 1. Virat Kohli (c), 2. Ajinkya Rahane, 3. Shikhar Dhawan, 4. Yuvraj Singh, 5. MS Dhoni, 6. Kedar Jadhav, 7. Hardik Pandya, 8. Kuldeep Yadav (ODI debut), 9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10. Umesh Yadav, and 11. Ravichandran Ashwin

Prediction

India last played a bilateral ODI series in the Caribbean in 2011, beating Darren Sammy and co. 2-3 in a five-ODI series. Kohli and co. will have to get used to the dry and humid Carribean weather, but being a resourceful side, adapting shouldn’t be a major issue. However, with personnel changes, you might well get a bit of instability in the batting line-up. Rahane is yet to make a name for himself in this format, the Indian middle order comprises veterans Dhoni, Jadhav and Yuvraj with question marks over their ability to deliver in crunch situations and the youngsters, if they are handed ODI debuts, might be a touch overawed as well.

On account of the aforementioned reasons, West Indies have to do what Pakistan did last Sunday: take early wickets and get into the ageing Indian middle order. Even though this Indian side boasts plenty of firepower in the batting and bowling departments, they can be made to look quite ordinary when you raise your game and neutralise the batting line-up by taking wickets upfront. I expect India to return to winning ways tomorrow, but Holder and co., in familiar conditions, are not incapable of troubling the Men in Blue.

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