India v West Indies, 1st ODI, Nagpur January 20, 2007


With both teams trying out different combinations before the World Cup, the performance of a few individuals may take precedence. Here we look at five head-to-head clashes that are likely to have a bearing on the series

Chris Gayle will be a force to reckon with, both with bat and ball © AFP

Zaheer v Gayle

Can Zaheer Khan succeed where Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel and Ajit Agarkar failed? Since his return to the side, Zaheer's been India's most consistent bowler. He's been sharp and has shown the hunger for battle. Now he'll be up against Chris Gayle, an opener who believes in slash and burn. Gayle averages a mighty 71.46 in the 15 one-dayers he's played in India, with six hundreds and one fifty. Zaheer's back-of-a-length deliveries that come in will pose problems but whether he can manage it consistently remains to be seen.

Harbhajan v Lara

He might have had a tough time of late but Harbhajan Singh remains a big threat when playing in India. He enjoys the bounce that the pitches offer and has often kept one end tied up. Up against him will be the greatest player of spin. Brian Lara had the better of Harbhajan during India's series in the Caribbean, thanks largely to his nimble footwork. He's dominated Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Danish Kaneria in their respective backyards; can he do the same to Harbhajan?

Taylor v Ganguly

One's the fastest bowler on either side, the other, thought of as suspect against pace, is returning after a long lay-off. The pacy Jerome Taylor has troubled India's batsmen recently but Sourav Ganguly would get a first glimpse of him only now. He's coming off an impressive tour of South Africa, where he handled the fast bowlers capably, and would be upbeat ahead of the first game.

Gayle v Tendulkar

Tendulkar moving down the order means he will need to be content with the offbreak-darts that Gayle and Marlon Samuels will have in store. He will be required to maneuver the ball around in the middle stages and it will be interesting to see how he improvises against the spinners. With no flight to play with, one can probably expect the paddle sweep to come out more often.

Bravo v Dhoni

Dwayne Bravo claims to be able to bowl "four different slower balls". Apart from these, one needs to watch out for the clever outswinger as well. India have struggled to get Bravo away at the death and would look to Mahendra Singh Dhoni to lead the carnage. His muscle power and hand-eye co-ordination have never been in doubt; only his ability to pick the right ball and make contact has raised questions. Towards the end of the innings, with both trying to outwit each other, who will blink?

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo