World Cup: India have luxury of failure, experiments against West Indies

The Indian skipper Virat Kohli with his squad. File photo: PTI

For some inexplicable reason, India have always struggled against West Indies in the world cup. Even in a tournament where India have scored big, against West Indies their batting has been edgy, the performance scrappy and the totals low.

That India have won their last three encounters—1996, 2011 and 2015—in spite of patchy performances is more a reflection of the fall of the West Indian batting than the overall supremacy of their rivals.

India vs West Indies has been the most boring rivalry in the world cup since that historic moment at Lord’s in 1983. Every time the two sides have met after that, the games have been marked by low-scoring, slow burners with a dreary end. In 1991, India couldn’t score 200. In 1996, West Indies returned the favour and put up just 174 on the board, a total India struggled to chase.

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In 2011, India were ripped open by Ravi Rampaul. They managed to score a sub-par 268, when 300 was the norm for the Indian hit men. West Indies, looked set to overhaul the target before characteristically going on a self-destructive spree. And in 2015, India just about managed to chase down another paltry target after losing five wickets.

That brings us to the point of this story: Indian batsman have always struggled against West Indies. And West Indies have managed to lose their games because their batsmen have struggled even more.

The script hasn’t changed this year

India go into their match against West Indies with some worries about the middle order and an opening pair that’s untested. There are concerns about the form and skill sets of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the viability of Vijay Shankar as the pivot of the innings and the position of Kedar Jadhav in the batting order. At the top, KL Rahul is yet to inspire the kind of confidence Shikhar Dhawan did. So, in this game, India would want to take a closer look at Shankar as the new number 2, Dhoni’s ability to finish games and Jadhav’s utility at number 5/6.

The good news for India is that they have still some time left to address the problems and pending questions. They have the liberty to take it easy, experiment a bit and see how it takes them from here. That’s the luxury they have earned by remaining unbeaten so far in this world cup. They can, unlike other teams except Australia, afford to lose and still be calm about it.

Also read: World cup cricket: How West Indies learnt to behave and forgot to win

West Indies, of course, do not have that option. For them, it is a case of either do, or get done with it. With just one victory in their bag, a loss against India would end their world cup dream. If that happens, they would be the only team among the Test playing nations to not have entered the semi-finals since 1983.

West Indies batting, unfortunately, doesn’t inspire confidence. It relies on bursts of individual brilliance—like the mayhem unleashed by Carlos Brathwaite against New Zealand—instead of a collective performance. They resemble more a side full of soloists than an orchestra. If they lose, it would be once again because of their batting.

At the end of the match, India would be happy if the team’s performance helps them make up their mind about Shankar, Dhoni and Jadhav. One of them failing may not be such a disaster, after all. Because, India still have on its bench a gamechanger like Rishabh Pant.

Over to the answers then

India squad: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal/Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammad Shami, Jaspreet Bumrah.

Pitch: Flat and slow.

Weather: Bright and sunny.

Toss strategy: Bat first to pile up a big score.

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