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Tough task

Underdogs seeking to upset hosts

KOCHI – West Indies commence their five-match One-Day International series tomorrow morning against hosts India at the Nehru Stadium as clear underdogs.

They have not started their tour particularly promisingly, losing both their practice matches to India ‘A’ teams, but will hope for a swift turnaround of fortunes and a possible upset when they take to the middle about 5 a.m. Barbados time.

India will seek to reaffirm their supremacy in the shorter version of the game with both teams also having some focus on preparing for the upcoming cricket World Cup. With five series victories against the West Indies, including three away series since 2006-07 under their belt, India would be looking to keep their winning record intact.

West Indies started the tour with their most pugnacious batsman in Chris Gayle missing because of his now worryingly persistent injury. To add to that setback, arguably their best bowling option on India’s turning tracks, Sunil Narine, has been withdrawn from the squad after being called twice by umpires for a suspect bowling action while playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise during the just concluded Champions League.

West Indies players Jerome Taylor (right), Lendl Simmons (left) and Kemar Roach getting in some practice ahead of tomorrow’s ODI.

West Indies players Jerome Taylor (right), Lendl Simmons (left) and Kemar Roach getting in some practice ahead of tomorrow’s ODI.

Though those calls did not bar Narine from playing in the ODIs, management decided to withdraw him from the side to have his action assessed. It was also likely that the umpires who questioned his bowling action, namely Kumar Dharmasena and Ian Gould, could feature in the series.

In the absence of Narine, greater responsibility will be placed on fast bowlers Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul in what is expected to be batting-friendly conditions. Left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn has replaced Narine but whether the tour selectors will go with him so soon after his arrival will only be known tomorrow. Both Roach and Taylor are on 98 ODI wickets. One of the ways West Indies can get the better of India is early wickets. In Rampaul they have one man who has done that before. His average of 23 and strike rate of 24.6 against India are a significant improvement on his career stats. West Indies will hope Rampaul is fit and ready to go.

It has been the West Indies’ batting which has let them down in recent times and so far on tour their top order has looked rather shaky with only wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin with a century, Marlon Samuels, and bowling-allrounders Darren Sammy and Jason Holder getting productive time in the middle.

At least seven out of the squad know the Indian conditions well, having played in the IPL and CLT20 and that should assist the West Indies to some extent.

Last November Sammy made way for Dwayne Bravo as captain of the side in the first of their three match series, but Bravo had a nightmarish time. This time around, the dynamic Trinidadian all-rounder will enter the series in superb form with both bat and ball in recent One-Day Internationals. Bravo will also be pinning his hopes on experienced players like Darren Bravo, Dwayne Smith and Kieron Pollard to come good with the bat.

While the threat of rain looms large over the match, the fans would be hoping to see the two teams in action. The home team will be keen to take a 1-0 lead at this ground where they dethroned Australia in January last year, before beating the West Indians last November at the same venue.

The series is crucial to India’s preparation to defend their World Cup title next year and the players will be looking to put up solid performances. Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led India are a well balanced side with both batsmen, barring the prolonged slump of Virat Kohli, and bowlers in good nick. Selectors have picked Murali Vijay in place of injured Rohit Sharma but it remains to be seen whether he or Ajinkya Rahane would open the innings with Shikhar Dhawan.

In the bowling department, Mohit Sharma would be the one to watch out for as he has been progressing well under Dhoni for Chennai Super Kings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav complete the pace quartet for India with experienced Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja manning the spin department.

Manager Sir Richie Richardson was confident his charges could get the job done, even in the absence of their most potent bowling weapon in Narine.

“We were positive even without him that we can play well against India and beat India. That’s the attitude we have got to adapt,” he said.

India seemingly will be playing the series with an eye on the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“We want to see the bigger picture here. We want to do a few things because you don’t want to go to Australia and say we should have done this, we should have done that. We will see what our cricketers can offer . . . but it is important to start well and look to win the series,” Dhoni said.

Teams – India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Murali Vijay, Kuldeep Yadav.

West Indies: Dwayne Bravo (captain), Darren Bravo, Jason Holder, Leon Johnson, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russel, Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Taylor.

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