West Indies, the home side, and Sri Lanka are the other two teams in the fray, but India’s presence alone makes it almost inevitable that there will be active interest in the proceedings. Also helping the cause are the proximity to mainland United States, which will attract Indian expats who are only a short flight away, and the 4th of July holiday weekend, although that will be offset somewhat by the fact that the first three matches, in Kingston, will begin at 8.00 pm IST and the last four, including the final, in Port of Spain will start an hour earlier.
Even as the Champions Trophy was being put to bed, Mahendra Singh Dhoni said at the post-match presentation that he would like his team to do well in the West Indies as well. As if to substantiate that claim, India announced an unchanged squad to indicate that it isn’t taking this tri-series – which kicks off with West Indies taking on Sri Lanka on Friday (June 28) -- lightly. Since then, Irfan Pathan has been ruled out due to a hamstring injury picked up during training and has been replaced by Mohammed Shami, the paceman from Bengal.
West Indies, knocked out of the Champions Trophy by South Africa on net run-rate after the teams tied their decisive, rain-marred fixture, would want to restate its credentials as a more than capable limited-overs outfit. A solid performance will get the local fans even more excited in the lead-up to the inaugural Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 tournament, to be held in July-August across five islands.
In recent times, Sri Lanka has suffered heavily at the hands of India, and it was no different when the teams went head to head in the semifinal of the Champions Trophy. Tillakaratne Dilshan suffered a severe calf injury in that game and has returned home along with Thisara Perera. The duo has been replaced by Upal Tharanga and Ajantha Mendis respectively.
It has been quite hot and humid in Kingston, and even though these conditions aren’t alien to any of the teams, they will have to adapt swiftly, coming as they are from the cold and blustery conditions in England and Wales. The pitches in the Caribbean have tended to play slow and low for the last few years and a similar trend is expected to continue, which should suit all teams just fine. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for the match days in Jamaica, which would mean winning the toss becomes significant. Even otherwise, Sabina Park has tended to favour teams chasing, with 18 wins for the team batting second and 13 for the team setting a target.
Both West Indies and Sri Lanka will approach the opening match of the tournament looking for a win to erase memories of their respective Champions Trophy campaigns.
Sri Lanka has fortified its spin resources by adding Ajantha Mendis and has the perennial tango of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to put together a competitive score or chase down anything West Indies puts up. Lasith Malinga is deadly against any team not named India which, coupled with the accurate spin of Rangana Herath should make it challenging for West Indies.
But West Indies, playing in front of an expectant Jamaican crowd, has the better balance. It has adequate back-up spin options to Sunil Narine in Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels as well as a long batting line-up. There are fast bowling choices in Tino Best, Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach, with Dwayne Bravo, the captain, Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy offering additional medium pace resources.
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Johnson Charles, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo (capt), Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Ravi Rampaul, Sunil Narine, Tino Best, Kemar Roach, Devon Smith.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews (capt), Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Shaminda Eranga, Ajantha Mendis, Jeevan Mendis, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Sachithra Senanayake.