Inconsistent West Indies needs to come up with an extraordinary show
Three weeks in and India’s World Cup defence has progressed with nary a sign of trouble.Pakistan and South Africa have been overcome and UAE barely taken notice of, in a game that finished so early another full innings could have been accommodated.
India will admit, though, that barring a small passage of play in Melbourne, it has faced no serious pressure at any stage. The first two matches played out to a template: win the toss, pile up a big score, and steadily constrict the other side. India’s lower order or its bowlers, who have operated remarkably well but with the weight of a tall total behind them, have not come under genuine attack.
But to find fault with these performances is to nitpick. It is with an air of assurance that India approaches its Group B fixture with West Indies here on Friday. The team trained in good spirits at the WACA ground, its mood in pleasant contrast to the tar-black cloud of smoke — from a bushfire in southern Perth — on the horizon.
Shami should be back
Mohammed Shami bowled in the nets and he should return to the team in place of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Last week, Shami watched from the sidelines as Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and R. Ashwin used the bounce in the surface to their advantage. He will be chomping at the bit, after hugely significant spells against Pakistan and South Africa. Shami knows he is now the leader of the fast-bowling pack; he will improve with every game in the World Cup.
Victory will guarantee India a spot in the quarterfinals. Making the last eight has never really been in doubt but with Ireland and Zimbabwe awaiting, in the New Zealand leg of the campaign, top spot in the group seems increasingly likely.
As familiar as India’s players are with their rival, there is no telling which West Indies will turn up. There is the merry, swashbuckling group that took down Pakistan and Zimbabwe; there is also the hapless, discordant bunch that lost to Ireland and South Africa. This has been a rather up and down World Cup for the Caribbean team.
The defeat to Ireland, after all the turbulence in the lead-up, felt like the bottom of a deep pit, but Jason Holder’s men showed surprising resolve in recovering.
Chris Gayle played no small part in it, with his double century over Zimbabwe, and West Indies will be relieved that he is fit to play. His back had been acting up earlier this week but he batted in the nets on the eve of the game without apparent discomfort.
Gayle shines like a light through the gloom of West Indies’ recent history — a sporadic, profoundly moody light, but a bright one nonetheless. His batting has an uplifting quality to it, but India’s bowlers have seen him enough in the IPL to be aware of his weaknesses.
Brittle lower order
Beyond Gayle and Marlon Samuels, though, the West Indies batting order looks light-weight. Clive Lloyd, the Chairman of Selectors, argued that his men batted till nine, but none of them seem convincing. How they handle Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will greatly dictate the team’s fortunes.
Jason Holder offered no hints about his eleven, but it is not inconceivable that the fast-bowler Kemar Roach will get an opportunity. Jerome Taylor destroyed Pakistan, but Holder induces no fear as his new-ball partner. Who will make way, should Roach feature, is hard to tell.
It must not be forgotten, though, that this is a bowling attack that has conceded 400 twice in the space of the last six weeks. Batsmen do not have too much to be wary of.
Since the last World Cup, India and West Indies have met each other 19 times. The latter has won on only six of those occasions; a seventh will need an extraordinary show.
The teams (from)
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R.Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny, Axar Patel and Ambati Rayudu.
West Indies: Jason Holder (capt.), Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Jonathan Carter, Denesh Ramdin, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Kemar Roach, Sheldon Cottrell, Sulieman Benn, Nikita Miller, Jerome Taylor and Johnson Charles.