“Apologies maan! Jumbo here! Good to see all of you here! Hi Rahul, great to meet you once again,” a veteran cricket fan announces his presence loudly during India’s indoor nets at Queen’ Park Oval.
This writer was flummoxed with the fan’s sudden entry into the indoor stadium. However, the warmth and respect shown by India head coach Rahul Dravid towards Jumbo was enough proof that this fan was indeed special. Cricket in Caribbean is unique in more than one way and one of the greatest attractions has always been some of the very lively cricket fans’ presence at the ground.
The likes of Gravy, Mayfield, Pappie and Chickie in Antigua are household names while Mac Fingall and the late King Dyal in Barbados are considered legendary fans. In terms of longevity, perhaps no one comes closer to Jumbo’s stature as an ultimate fan who has been coming over to Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Oval for more than 50 years now.
However, not only Jumbo but a lot of local fans are not too enthusiastic about home team’s chances against India despite the visitors missing almost half of the their first-choice players in playing XI. It’s been nearly three years since Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain last hosted an international game. In that sense, it’s a huge relief for a nation where airport was shut down for close to two years. In fact, the mandatory masks were lifted only earlier this week. After a long time, the general public is going to be together and enjoy an international game in this country.
And yet, the biggest queries around Team India is not about the players who have come but about for the legends who are not touring. No prizes for guessing who we are talking about.
From a former player to a passionate fan, everyone is asking why ‘Veeraat is not playing man!’ Even if the host lost the last ODI match on this ground they had enjoyed a special Virat Kohli ton which has become the talk of the cricket world.
Regardless of the notable absence of Kohli and Rohit Sharma from the top-order, the Shikhar Dhawan-led side is expected to win if you go by the recent performances of the West Indies team.
Since March 2017, West Indies have played exactly a dozen bilateral series at home and have managed to win against Ireland (January 2020) and Sri Lanka (March 2021). The last time West Indies won a bilateral ODI series against India was way back in May 2006 and then the current head coach was their captain.
Due to rain, Indian players were denied opportunities of two nets sessions before this game. However, they tried to spend as much time in the indoor nets.
More so, the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shubman Gill spent a considerable amount of time with the support staff. The biggest opportunity for these two youngsters is at the top of the order as it’s still not clear who will be accompanying Dhawan to face the new ball.
Another southpaw like Ishan Kishan too could have been in contention for this vital slot but because of left-right combination it’s is a tossup between Gaikwad and Gill.
Gill is being seen as the next big batting hero from India and spent nearly 20 minutes chatting with batting coach Vikram Rathour after finishing his session on Wednesday. Even though, Gill has scored just 49 runs from three ODIs so far, this could turn out to be a turning point for his white-ball career.
While Suryakumar Yadav looks in confident mood and touch, Deepak Hooda too is carrying his England form. However, it’s a huge series for the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson. Iyer is the one who has been relentless in his preparation to counter the challenges of short pitch stuff.
Shadow practice of pull shots to long chats with Rathour suggest that the Mumbaikar is desperately keen to improve this aspect of his game. Iyer played only the first ODI in England, and lost his place in the XI once Kohli recovered from a groin niggle. Now with Kohli rested once again, it’s likely that Iyer will be playing all three matches at No. 3 spot which can either revive his career or can push him back in the batting queue depending on what how he fares against the Caribbean bowlers.
On the other hand, Samson’s body language suggest that the man is at ease with himself and not dejected with fewer opportunities so far in white ball formats. If the breath-taking fifty against Ireland can be replicated during the ODIs against West Indies, Samson may finally get a longer rope to prove himself.
Dhawan’s only concern could be the inexperience in India’s pace department. The five pacers in Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur have a combined experience of less than 50 games (39 ODIs to be precise). Even if Avesh and Arshdeep haven’t played a single ODI, they may prove more than handy for the West Indian batters given the way they have bowled in high-voltage IPL games over the last two seasons.
“Why no Shami man?” Jumbo asks this writer before leaving the ground. When I said jokingly that the pace attack is still good enough to beat them, Jumbo couldn’t stop laughing before firing a warning shot: “Don’t take anything for granted, young man!”
Perhaps, that is the advice Dravid may be giving to his young boys on Friday.