‘Maan apologies! Jumbo here! Good to see you all here! Hi Rahul, nice to meet you again,’ a veteran cricket fan announces his presence aloud during India’s inside nets at Queen’ Park Oval.
This writer was taken aback by the fan’s sudden entrance into the indoor stadium. However, the warmth and respect Indian head coach Rahul Dravid showed towards Jumbo was proof enough that this fan was truly special. Cricket in the Caribbean is unique in more ways than one and one of the biggest attractions has always been the presence of some of the very lively cricket fans on the pitch.
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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 close to Jumbo’s stature as the ultimate fan who has been coming to Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad for over 50 years now.
However, not only Jumbo but many of the local fans aren’t too keen on the home side’s chances against India despite the visitors missing almost half of their first-choice players for play XI. It has been nearly three years since the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain last hosted an international match. In that sense, it is a huge relief for a country where the airport has been closed for almost two years. In fact, the mandatory masks were only lifted at the start of the week. After a long time, the general public will meet and enjoy an international match in this country.
And yet the biggest questions around Team India are not about the players who have come but the legends who are not on tour. No prizes for guessing who we’re talking about.
From a former player to an avid fan, everyone wonders why ‘Veeraat doesn’t play man!’ Even though the host lost the last ODI game at this ground, they had enjoyed a special Virat Kohli ton which became the talk of the cricketing world.
Regardless of the notable absence of Kohli and Rohit Sharma from the top order, the team managed by Shikhar Dhawan should win if you believe the recent performances of the West Indies team.
Since March 2017, the West Indies have played exactly ten 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 in May 2006 and then the current head coach was their captain.
Due to the rain, the Indian players were denied the opportunity for two nets before this game. However, they tried to spend as much time as possible in the inside net.
More so, people like Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shubman Gill spent a lot of time with the support staff. The biggest opportunity for these two youngsters is at the top of the list as it is still unclear who will accompany Dhawan to face the new ball.
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Another southpaw like Ishan Kishan could also have been in contention for that vital slot, but because of the left-right combination, it’s a draw between Gaikwad and Gill.
Gill is seen as India’s next big batting hero and spent nearly 20 minutes chatting with batting coach Vikram Rathour after finishing his session on Wednesday. Even though Gill has only scored 49 points across three ODIs so far, this could prove to be a turning point for his clean ball career.
While Suryakumar Yadav looks confident in mood and touch, Deepak Hooda also wears his English form. However, it’s a huge series for people like Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson. Iyer is the one who has been relentless in his preparation to counter the challenges of the short-pitch stuff.
Shadow practice from shots taken to long talks with Rathour suggests Mumbaikar are desperate to improve this aspect of their game. Iyer only played the first ODI in England and lost his place in the XI once Kohli recovered from a groin problem. Now that Kohli has rested once more, it’s likely that Iyer will play all three games in third place, which can either jump-start his career or push him back into the batting line depending on his behavior towards bowlers in the Caribbean.
On the other hand, Samson’s body language suggests the man is comfortable with himself and not downcast with fewer opportunities so far in white ball formats. If the jaw-dropping fifty against Ireland can be replicated in the ODIs against the West Indies, Samson could finally get a longer rope to prove himself.
Dhawan’s only concern might be the inexperience of India’s pace department. The five guards of Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur have a combined experience of less than 50 matches (39 ODIs to be precise). Even though Avesh and Arshdeep haven’t played a single ODI, they may prove more than handy for West Indian batters given how they’ve played in high-tension IPL matches over the past two seasons.
“Why no Shami man?” Jumbo asks this writer before leaving the ground. When I jokingly said that the attacking pace was still good enough to beat them, Jumbo couldn’t help but laugh before firing a warning shot: “Don’t take anything for granted, young man!
Maybe that’s the advice Dravid could give his young boys on Friday.
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