21st May: Chennai Super Kings v M. Indians, 14:30 GMT
24th-28th May: 2nd Test, Headingley
For the past fifteen months or so, team India was flying high. A Test series loss to Sri Lanka in Lanka being the only blip on the radar, they conquered everything that came their way. More importantly it didn’t matter if it was at home or away. With the disappointing exit from the Super Eight stage of the T20 World Cup, the bubble has been suddenly burst and the team is now left to pick up the pieces in the Caribbean.
What are they doing there? Well, they will be playing four ODIs before finally returning home after a non-stop five months on the road. Or they will be hoping to play, lest the swine flu has its own way.
Yes, surprising as it may seem that there was a big noise about the team feeling burnt out and the BCCI scheduling too may matches, they are playing yet another contest within days of the previous one. That on the back of some reports that atleast half the side is carrying niggles on from the tour of New Zealand and the IPL season two, which were of course not healed during the T20 World Cup and would have an even lesser chance during the now imminent contest.
But that is as far as belittling this particular contest goes, for it has some good attached to it as well. For starters, the Indians will be away from their home which means that the spotlight will shift away from the failure in England. The memory of the average Indian cricket fan is quite fickle and a win in the Windies will go a long way in helping them get over that. Not to mention the Indian media will stop hounding them and the next two months off will be spent in relative comfort.
Plus there are the people who pay them bucket loads of money that is the sponsors. Few of the players’ images took a bit of a hit when they were knocked out of the T20 World Cup. Players like Dhoni, Yuvraj and the likes spend their off time shooting for advertisements more passionately than any of their other hobbies (if they have any) and a respectable performance on the other side of the Atlantic will mean that the cash will keep flowing for the players.
But the real advantage of this series will be the change in personnel that India will be able to test out against an opposition which can never be taken lightly at home. Ashish Nehra makes a return to the fold after five long years and will be hoping to make an immediate mark. He is a rhythm bowler and he is in fine form now. So in short this series is a blessing in disguise for him as this is his best chance to put his best foot forward. And the fact that West Indies has been a happy hunting ground for him will only boost his confidence. Remember he played a massive hand in India winning their first test in the Windies after more than two decades.
Besides the left arm pacer there are also S Badrinath, Murali Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and Abhishek Nayar who will be looking to get a game. Now counting aside the fact that the chairman of selectors is from Tamil Nadu, the first three will be looking to get a couple of games under their belt and more than that try and impress in India colors for surely they have been given a long enough rope to do so. The next tournament is in September and if they don’t make this one work, there will be no reason to keep them on the fringes. Unless Srikkanth means to look over that aspect as well!
Talking about Abhishek Nayar, this is a golden opportunity for the Mumbai youngster who has promised so much these last fifteen months. His performances in the IPL were just too good to be ignored for long and it was a pity that he didn’t make the T20 squad for one genuinely felt that he would have been more useful than Ravindra Jadeja or even Praveen Kumar in England.
But the two players for whom this series hold the most importance are Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni. Rohit has been in fine form throughout the year but that has been primarily in T20 cricket. He wasn’t included in the first eleven in New Zealand for Sachin Tendulkar was around. Now both the maestro and Sehwag are missing which means not only will he get to play all four games but also will get to open the innings in all probability. It doesn’t get better than this if you want to make an ODI berth permanent.
Dhoni, with an eye on leading well again, will get to bat up the order since Raina is missing. This means that he has all the time in the world to settle down and get going, get the timing right and when he is set, he needs to go after the bowling to get some big hits in. Just to remember what it feels like to hit some of those. For only then will he be able to return to his chirpy self and go well into the break; more importantly come out on the other side with his head clear of cobwebs.
For it is going to be an important year for Indian cricket as they will once again bid to topple the rankings! And it begins not in September with the Champions Trophy but now as with a series win, India can rise above Australia in the ODI rankings. But the team will do well to remember the mistakes they made in the last ODI series they played in the Caribbean. One is talking not only about the 2007 World Cup but also the 2005 ODI series when a rejuvenated Windies ended their 17 match unbeaten run while chasing. Take the West Indies lightly at your own mighty peril is one’s two pence to the tired Indian team!
© Cricket World 2009
Chetan Narula writes a weekly column for CricketWorld.com, and contributes to our weekly radio show - Cricket World Around The World. Cricket World® Radio is covering the West Indies-India series with live, unofficial audio commentary from our studios.