West Indies and India commence a three-match One-Day International series at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad on Friday with the visitors, even without their most prominent players, favoured to get the better of a struggling home side.
Fresh from a 2-1 series triumph in England, the Indians have opted to rest regular captain Rohit Sharma, key batsman Virat Kohli, wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah.
That presents an opportunity for talented and eager fringe players to make the most of the stars’ absences at the expense of a team that was swept 3-0 by Bangladesh in Guyana the previous week.
West Indies captain Nicholas Pooran complained about both the quality of pitches against the Bangladeshis at Providence and the early start time which he felt conspired to favour the team bowling first too heavily.
That speculation overlooks the reality that the two-time former World Cup winners have been consistently poor in the 50 overs-per-side format for several years.
Given the unsettled weather leading up to the series-opener, it is quite possible that the playing surface will not be dissimilar to the bowler-friendly conditions in Guyana.
Even with that quintet of star players opting for a rest, India enjoy an embarrassment of riches, not least in the bowling department where they possess the quality and variety to exploit both the conditions and a vulnerable West Indies batting line-up.
Pacer Mohammed Siraj and wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal are expected to lead the effort to keep pressure on their opponents, many of whom were found wanting technically and temperamentally against Bangladesh’s spin-dominated attack.
For the home team, the one bit of encouraging news in the days since the end of the Bangladesh series is the return of Jason Holder.
Having been rested for series in the Netherlands, Pakistan and the visit by Bangladesh, the all-rounder and former captain will be looked to for inspiration with bat and ball.
Pressure is very much on current skipper Pooran though to lift his team out of the doldrums into which they have appeared to sink so rapidly following comfortable 2-0 series wins in Tests and T20 Internationals against Bangladesh.
His top-score of 73 last Saturday at the Guyana National Stadium ended a succession of mediocre contributions in ODIs.
However, the West Indies will need to have all hands on deck, especially opening batsman Shai Hope, if they are to get anywhere close to posting the sort of totals which could seriously challenge their opponents.
With so many big names absent for India, the likes of batsmen Ishan Kishan, Shubman Gill and Suryakumar Yadav, together with all-rounder Deepak Hooda are expected to come to the fore.
With another T20 World Cup campaign mere months away in Australia followed by India’s hosting of the next 50-over World Cup in 2023, incentives to deliver are aplenty.
All three ODIs will be played at Queen’s Park Oval after which the teams switch format but stay in Trinidad for the first T20 International at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba.
From there it’s on to St Kitts for two games before the five-match series concludes in the United States with two fixtures at Lauderhill in Florida.
Teams (probable): West Indies – Nicholas Pooran (captain), Shai Hope (wicketkeeper), Kyle Mayers, Brandon King, Keacy Carty, Rovman Powell, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Akeal Hosein, Gudakesh Motie, Jayden Seales.
India – Shikhar Dhawan (captain), Ishan Kishan (wicketkeeper), Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Deepak Hooda, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal, Avesh Khan.