By R Kaushik in Mirpur
India has hit on the right bowling combination with three spinners ahead of battle in which both sets of players have considerable familiarity with each other
Having arrived a good 30 minutes ahead of schedule for his press conference, Darren Sammy waited patiently for the journalists, out of shape and panting after hurriedly clambering down three levels, to catch their breath and settle down. Suddenly, he discovered the pleasures of a swivel chair, going round and round in circles and repeatedly saying. ‘This is nice’.
Sammy and a smile are constant companions. He is blessed with the ability to find humour in every situation, an endearing trait that is distinctly Caribbean, and which must not be mistaken for a lack of competitive intent.
As the Q&A session got underway, someone asked the West Indies captain, “You seem very relaxed, do you think India are easy opponents tomorrow?” For a fleeting second, the smile left the Sammy face as he struggled to make sense of that query. Then, he grinned broadly and countered, “You seriously asked that question?”
Sammy’s sunny countenance is amply illustrative of the mood in the West Indies camp as it sets about the defence of its ICC World Twenty20 crown, won in Colombo 18 months ago on the back of Marlon Samuels’s breathtaking assault on Lasith Malinga and a tidy performance from their bowlers. The status of defending champion is something West Indies isn't too familiar with – the last time it entered a global tournament as the holder was during the Champions Trophy in 2006, when it moved to within one rung of becoming a repeat champion before being stopped by Australia.
The label of defending champion, though, is unlikely to make any impact on the kind of cricket West Indies plays. The side brings the freest of spirits and a supreme enjoyment of the craft that makes it a joy to behold. Not unlike Pakistan, it can either comprehensively subjugate an opposition or summarily roll over, though given its liking for, and a relative mastery of the Twenty20 format, it is difficult to see the team not putting up a serious fight to retain top dog status over the next fortnight.
First up for West Indies is 2007 champion India, in game two of the double header at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Sunday(March 23) night. India is on a high after its commanding seven-wicket rout of Pakistan in the Super 10 opener, but having seen firsthand the kind of damage the West Indian batsmen can do, India will hardly look back at Friday’s victory at any great length. On Sunday, the bowlers' energies will be focussed entirely on how to tackle the booming willows of Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith, of Samuels and Dwayne Bravo, of Lendl Simmons and Sammy himself.
With the exception of Simmons, all of the other top-order batsmen are regular fixtures in the Indian Premier League. India knows as much about these intrepid batsmen with an eye on the boundary boards as does West Indies of its Indian counterparts. Even in this age of technological advancement where there are no secrets any longer, there is nothing that can quite match firsthand, practical knowledge of the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. On that front, India and West Indies begin this contest on an even keel.
With Mahendra Singh Dhoni having finally shed his diffidence and plumped for a third spinner in the playing XI in Amit Mishra instead of hopefully picking one third paceman after another because he is not comfortable playing with just two quicks, India seems to have got its thinking right. It’s more than possible that one or more of Mishra, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be taken to the cleaners by the West Indies batsmen, but under these, and most, conditions, India’s best Twenty20 attack must include this trio. All three of them were brilliant against Pakistan; if they encounter similar conditions to those that existed on Friday night – there is a 70% chance of precipitation, though, on Sunday – they will fancy their chances against attack-minded batsmen who will therefore always present them with an opportunity or two.
It’s not as if West Indies doesn't have its own spinning stars. Sunil Narine is one of the most prolific wicket-takers in the limited-overs versions where the batsmen need to necessarily make the play. Even after two and a half years in international cricket, he continues to baffle and hoodwink the best batsmen with his massive bag of tricks, 30 wickets and an economy of under six from 24 Twenty20 Internationals exemplifying the hold he has had over batsmen globally.
In Samuel Badree, his fellow Trinidad spinner, Narine has the ideal foil. Badree is a legspinner by nomenclature but he is more of a slider, getting the ball to hasten off the surface and giving the batsman no time to line him up. He is at home bowling with the new ball and invariably provides the early breakthroughs; India’s top order hasn’t seen as much of Badree as it has of Narine, but it can’t be unaware of the threat from the sliding leggie with the quick arm action and relentless accuracy.
In Krishmar Santokie, the 29-year-old left-arm medium pacer who is somewhat of a late bloomer, West Indies has another serious wicket-taking option of whom India has very little notice. Barring Yuvraj Singh, everyone else of the top five got a reasonable hit against Pakistan, but Shikhar Dhawan was noticeably edgy at the start of his innings while Rohit Sharma continues to ignore the wisdom of rotating the strike, a characteristic that is a definite no-no in Twenty20 cricket.
Armed with the plethora of riches, West Indies may not necessarily miss Kieron Pollard too much at the start of the tournament, but India will be happy it doesn’t have to contend with the six-hitting giant. Gayle and Smith, with Samuels, Bravo and Sammy to follow, is in itself a most frightening prospect. Mishra and his band of spinning brothers will have their work cut out.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron, Stuart Binny, Mohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane.
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Darren Sammy (capt), Denesh Ramdin (wk), Andre Russell, Kishmar Santokie, Samuel Badree, Sunil Narine, Ravi Rampaul, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Sheldon Cottrell.