The mind games, so very much part of the game these days, have already started in real earnest. In a bid to put the disappointment of the Twenty20 World Cup behind him Indian captain MS Dhoni said he would bring the cheer back on the face of Indian cricket fans with a victory in the four-match ODI series in the West Indies commencing later this week. West Indian captain Chris Gayle took little time in mocking at Dhoni’s statement saying "we might fly like butterflies but we can sting like a bee," paraphrasing what was said long ago of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
It is not easy to brush off a poor showing and come back right away with a bang particularly when you are still on foreign territory. Though the lightning tour consists of only four ODIs spread over ten days it has assumed significance for Indian cricket because of the developments in England. On the other hand West Indies, after their creditable show of making the semifinals, are bound to be confident especially as they are playing in their own backyard. They will also take heart from the fact that they won the last ODI series played between the two countries in the Caribbean three years ago by four matches to one.
Of course Twenty20 is different from Fifty50 as the latter is different from Test cricket and to be candid the Indian team has had an excellent record in recent times in the one day format, having notched up away series victories in New Zealand and Sri Lanka (twice) besides thrashing England 5-0 at home. They will also be encouraged by the fact that West Indies lost both the ODI matches to England only last month. There is also a negative factor in favor of the touring team – the turmoil over the selection of the West Indian squad for the matches following the axing of Lendl Simmons and Darren Sammy and the return of the controversial Runako Morton. A lot of interest though centers round the inclusion of Darren Bravo, younger brother of Dwayne Bravo, a left handed batsman of much promise though the side’s cause is not helped by the fact that pace spearhead Fidel Edwards will miss the first ODIs because of injury.
But to be candid, the Indians should put their own house in order to have a chance of winning the series – something that Dhoni has clearly wants, as a starting point of a revival of his own as well as the team’s fortunes. The news that some players were carrying injuries going into the Twenty20 World Cup has been received with dismay and one is not sure whether there are again injured players in the party currently in the Caribbean. The selectors have done well in not considering Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Suresh Raina, all of whom have been rested while nursing injuries while Virender Sehwag was always out of contention due to a troublesome shoulder which requires surgery.
Any touring squad without such players of proven class and skill is bound to be at a disadvantage and indeed there is a certain absence of quality in the team. A glance at the personnel and it is obvious that it does not look like the side which has run up an enviable record in ODIs in recent times. There are weaknesses in batting and bowling which are obvious following the non-availability of the quartet already mentioned. Handy cricketers as M Vijay and S Badrinath are they do not inspire confidence in the average Indian cricket fan and too much really depends on Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma and the skipper. Yusuf Pathan, given his swashbuckling style of play, is a bit of a gamble and much would depend on where he figures in the batting order.
The bowling too presents problems. With Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan not in the starting line up experience is the first casualty. The return of Ashish Nehra is to be welcomed but the lack of form of Ishant Sharma continues to be a worry. The best bet under the circumstances would seem to be Rudra Pratap Singh. Of course, against the West Indies, spin might play a major role and perhaps the team management would do well in playing Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha in all the matches.
This then looms as a contest between two equally matched sides with limitations and one wouldn’t be surprised if they wind up sharing honours.