Chance for India to gather steam

Cricket World T20
Last Updated 22 March 2014, 18:58 IST

Just about four months ago, India had mauled the West Indies 2-0 in the two-Test series and followed it up with a 2-1 win in the three one-day internationals back home.

The core group that beat the West Indies remains the same and the conditions in Bangladesh aren’t too dissimilar to that of India. The MS Dhoni-led side has also reeled off two back to back wins here -- one against England in a warm-up tie on Wednesday and another, more importantly, over arch-rivals Pakistan on Friday in a Super 10 game. Yet, India start their Group 2 match of the World T20 against West Indies as equal favourites if not underdogs.

With a batting line-up to die for and a bowling mix tailor-made for the T20 format, the Caribbeans are a side to beat. While the likes of Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree, who seem to have perfected the art of bowling in the shortest version, do provide West Indies a certain edge on the slow pitches here, the defending champions derive most of their strength from an explosive set of batsmen -- from Chris Gayle to Dwayne Smith and Marlon Samuels to Dwayne Bravo.

These willow-wielders have proven track record of setting up insurmountable totals or chasing down any target. The absence of another big-hitting all-rounder Kieron Pollard through injury is indeed a big blow but West Indies possess enough firepower in their reserves to offset the Trinidadian’s non-availability.

The form book too puts West Indies ahead of India who have hardly played any T20 International in the run up to the event. The Darren Sammy-led side defeated England 2-1 in the three-match T20 series at home and won both their warm-up ties here against England and Sri Lanka with a great degree of comfort. The head-to-head record is also in favour of the West Indies who have won both the encounters against India -- in 2009 and 2010.

Of course history counts for little and especially so in this format but it takes more than just the talent to overcome the past baggage. Ask Pakistan about their losing streak against India! While West Indies seemingly have covered all their bases, India’s bowling concerns remain despite their command show against Pakistan. Amit Mishra, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were extraordinary against Pakistani batsmen. Opening the attack, Ashwin gave little away in terms of either length or line while Mishra purchased big turn from the pitch. Jadeja was his usual accurate, maintaining his stump-to-stump line. The three spun a web around a diffident Pakistani batsmen but it won’t be as easy for them to tie down the West Indies’ batsmen who like to express themselves.

Gayle looms as a major challenge for them but even if they neutralise his threat, they have one stroke-maker after another that follow him. Sustaining the intensity will be crucial, particularly so for the pacers. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and, barring his final over, Mohammad Shami came up with a rare good show in the death to complement an excellent work by the spinners and Dhoni would back the same combination to deliver a similar job in the second match of the day on the same pitch.

On the batting front, Virat Kohli’s assured presence and Suresh Raina’s belligerence were confidence boosters as was the half-century opening stand between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. Dhawan’s discomfort against short-pitched delivery, however, wouldn’t have gone unnoticed and the West Indies’ pacers will be encouraged to dig in a few short balls. Yuvraj Singh, who was dismissed off a second ball, will be under pressure to perform.

From India’s point of view, the win here will enhance their chances of progress into the semifinals even if they suffer a reversal in one of their next two group matches against Australia and Bangladesh.

(Published 22 March 2014, 18:58 IST)

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