It’s a tale of two realities. Testing the strength of your bench is validation of the ample resources available, as is the case with India. They are working with various permutations and combinations from a vast pool, staring at the larger picture, that is, the World Cup 2019.
On the other side are the Windies, who’ve had to make do with the best of ‘available’ resources for the five-match ODI series against India, starting Sunday (October 21).
It has been a hard few years for Windies cricket; the management debacle has had a proportionate impact on not just competency, but even the talent pool coming through. And with established players opting out of central contracts, the situation only gets murkier.
Take Evin Lewis, for example, who recently opted out of a central contract. The dynamic batsman’s withdrawal from the upcoming ODI series due to personal reasons depletes the squad further. They were already hurt by Chris Gayle declining his selection and Andre Russell’s unavailability due to injury. Kieran Powell, who scored 83 in the Rajkot Test against India, was named his replacement and has a task on his hands to transition from red-ball cricket.
Windies are being forced to scrape by what is acquirable. That, in turn, hampers their preparation for the World Cup, which incidentally they made via the Qualifiers. But as with any bad situation, this one too comes with a promise of opportunity. There’s a stage laid out for incoming players like Fabian Allen, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Oshane Thomas, Obed McCoy, to showcase potential, while paradoxically depriving necessary game-time from the others, who may eventually make the squad for the global event. That the window of experimentation is as slim as 13 ODIs between now and then, is a cause of concern.
To make matters worse, the stepping down of coach Stuart Law – the India tour being his penultimate assignment – has heightened the sense of instability. Law’s stay with Windes will be cut short by two games due to a suspension that forces him to miss the first two ODIs of the India series due to a breach of ICC’s code of conduct.
While Windies are powerless against circumstance and lacking in choice, the choice of plenty has forced India into thinking. They have rested and rotated players the last couple of series to have their best squad picked for the Australia tour, which will be their penultimate touring assignment before the World Cup. That said, there remains uncertainty in a few roles and spots.
The primary of that being, the role of MS Dhoni and youngster Rishabh Pant, who has earned his maiden one-day call-up, ahead of Dinesh Karthik. While Pant stole the spotlight with exceptional form in the Tests, Karthik had done little wrong since his recall last July, scoring 350 runs in 13 innings, averaging 50.
Dhoni, until the World Cup at least, isn’t going anywhere. His wicketkeeping skills and astute tactical nous are irreplaceable assets. However, his batting, more precisely his abilities as a finisher have waned in the recent past and that brings Pant into the dialogue, who could now slot in purely as a pure batsman/finisher.
While Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are arguably the best top-three in the world, the middle order is unsettled, with the spotlight still remaining on the moot No.4 slot. Ambati Rayudu will in all certainty pip Manish Pandey in the reckoning, and battle it out with KL Rahul after having had a decent outing in the Asia Cup where he played six innings for 175 runs, averaging 43.75.
Ravindra Jadeja has been the beneficiary of untimely injuries to Axar Patel and Hardik Pandya, adding another name to the mix for World Cup contention. Before the Asia Cup, Jadeja had last played an ODI in July 2017. Now, he has all but sealed his spot in the team as the finger-spinning all-rounder, in case India need to change course from the overtly growing line of thought of wrist spinners’ success in limited-overs.
Umesh Yadav, who was named Shardul Thakur’s replacement following his abductor tendon injury, and who also earned Kohli’s endorsement for the Australia series, could just as well stake his claim for a World Cup spot.
That said, in comparison to their opponents, India have largely positive problems. But conflict between the BCCI and local associations have caused unwanted distractions. The second ODI that was initially slotted to be played in Indore, was moved to Visakhapatnam owing to dispute over complementary tickets. Even the fourth ODI of the series in Mumbai, was moved from the Wankhede to the Brabourne Stadium which last hosted an international game in 2009.
Ninth-ranked Windies lost their last ODI assignment at home 2-1 to Bangladesh. They have a different set-up since then, but the challenges remain familiar. As for India, it’s not an opportunity to prove their dominance; if anything, they’re eyeing ways to sustain it – long-term.
Squads: Windies: Jason Holder (c), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Ashley Nurse, Keemo Paul, Rovman Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Fabian Allen, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Oshane Thomas, Obed McCoy, Kieran Powell
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, K Khaleel Ahmed, Lokesh Rahul, Umesh Yadav