India have an eye on semis

HERE I COME: India skipper Virat Kohli, who has a brilliant record against the West Indies, will be eyeing another big one on Thursday. REUTERS

“Playing India is always a big game for West Indies,” said skipper Jason Holder on Wednesday, the eve of their World Cup match here at the Old Trafford. When they met here for the first and only time on the 9th of June 1983, the situation was remarkably contrasting. India were still the minnows of the game, and West Indies the world beaters.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since that historic day that saw West Indies taste their first defeat in a World Cup match. While the fortunes of both teams have moved in exactly opposite directions, the game too has changed without, however, losing its character.

The contest between bat and ball was equal and 250 (in 60 overs) was a winning target on most days. India, in fact, posted 262 before restricting the mighty Caribbeans to 228. Till that World Cup, the ODIs were 60-overs-a-side affairs with a provision for spill over to the next day in the event of play stopping due to any external interruption. The 1983 match between the two sides was spread over June 9 and 10 as rain had delayed the start.

Thursday’s weather forecast predicts no rain for the day with a rare clear sky in Manchester, and that should come as a relief for India as a second no-result could seriously compromise their position in the points table should they suffer any reversals in upcoming matches. At nine points from five games, India’s place in the semifinal will be more or less assured if they beat West Indies who, for all practical purposes, are out of contention with just three points from six matches.

In a good news, West Indies will have the services of opener Chris Gayle after a body blow in the shape of Andre Russell’s exit through injury. West Indies have managed to dig out a hero here and there but the lack of collective effort is hurting them. Talented batsmen like Evin Lewis, Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer have shown that they have the ability, but they need to draw a line between youthful exuberance and impetuousness. They seem to be happy with their cute 40s and 50s when the need of the hour is to play a big innings.

Bowling too has enough depth and fire, but consistency has been missing. They tend to do the same thing over and over again and often get predictable with their strategy.

That said, India shouldn’t err on the side of the caution as West Indies are no Afghanistan. They have the pedigree; you give them an inch and they will take a mile. India’s hard-fought win against Afghanistan came at the right time, sending Virat Kohli and company a wake-up call. Their batting is still heavily reliant on top three, and M S Dhoni’s inability to provide momentum should make them revisit their batting order.

While K L Rahul did promise to fill Shikhar Dhawan’s absence effectively, his fetish for playing unorthodox shots early in the piece can prove costly. He need not look beyond his opening partner Rohit Sharma and Kohli who almost never attempt these risky shots even when they are well-set. With India having a long tail with four specialist bowlers in their line-up, it becomes all the more important for each of the top-order batsmen to play with reasonable restraint and responsibility.

The bowling unit is working like a well-oiled machine with each one of them – specialists and all-rounders – making an impact. The injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar too is showing signs of improvement as the pacer bowled at the unprotected stump from the top of his run-up during practice and followed it up with some sprints. He remains a big doubt against West Indies though.

India also have a proud record to protect of not losing any of their last four World Cup games at this venue while West Indies have the task of ending their four-match losing streak here.

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