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Depleted West Indies search for redemption in natural habitat

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Dasgupta: T20Is will be the real competition (1:31)

Deep Dasgupta feels this will be a big opportunity for young Indian players to establish themselves (1:31)

Big Picture

The last time India played an international match without either Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni, with neither injured, was during the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka in March, that ended memorably with Dinesh Karthik's escape to victory against Bangladesh. Before that, you have to go as far back as the tour of Zimbabwe in July 2015. While it would be too much to say that India haven't learned to survive without Kohli or Dhoni, their absence will leave an experience void in India, but as they showed in March, it is a void that can be overcome.

West Indies, on the other hand, were supposed to have been fortified with the returns of Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Darren Bravo, but Russell it turns out, has been a late withdrawal from the squad. Courtney Browne, the chairman of selectors, said Russell was "injured" and his name has been withdrawn from the T20I series. With or without Russell, the 20-overs game has seemed like West Indies' natural habitat in the past few years, and with several match-winners in the team, they will begin the three-match T20I series on at least equal footing with India. They had promised much in the ODIs before crumbling, and this is their last shot at redemption on tour, having handily lost the Test series too. Another casualty from their ODI series is Ashley Nurse, and the injury he picked up then has ruled him out.

Form guide

India WLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)

West Indies LLWWL

In the spotlight

Rohit Sharma has been in a rich vein of form in the white-ball cricket he has played recently, in the Asia Cup and the five-match ODI series against West Indies. As captain, he has delivered results consistently, whether on a regular basis with Mumbai Indians or in the stray opportunities he has got to lead India. Recently named in India's Test squad to Australia too, everything is suddenly looking rosy for Rohit, a few short months since he was axed from the Test squad. Moreover, he is returning to his favourite venue, the scene of his Test debut and his world-record 264 against Sri Lanka in an ODI. And this will be the first time he'd leading India at the venue.

Kieron Pollard first gained fame via his T20 exploits in the inaugural edition of the Champions League T20, and it's the T20 format that has heralded his comeback to the team. Once among the most valuable players for any T20 side, Pollard has lost some of his lustre of late. He last played for West Indies more than a year ago, in September 2017. Differences with the West Indies board meant he, along with several others, didn't play for a long time. A combative character in the middle, Pollard will be keen to show that his return makes a difference to the side.

Team news

For India, the series is a good opportunity to test young blood. They named their 12 on match eve, and indications are that Krunal Pandya is set to make his international debut, slotting in as the allrounder. It looks likely that one of Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal will sit out, given that the Eden Gardens pitch has helped pacers of late. That means India should go in with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Khaleel Ahmed. If both Chahal and Kuldeep play, it could make for a long tail, which makes Krunal's inclusion more likely. Between the wristspinning twins, if such things hold weight, Kuldeep might have the edge given his familiarity with the ground that is his home venue in the IPL.

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Kuldeep Yadav/Yuzvendra Chahal, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Khaleel Ahmed

The unavailability of Russell will leave West Indies with a hole. One of the best T20 cricketers, Russell's addition to any team immediately adds depth because it's almost like having two cricketers rolled into one. Without him, West Indies will need the others to step up. Shimron Hetmyer thrilled watchers with his audacious hitting during the ODIs, and he comes with a reputation as a hard-hitter in T20s too. Importantly, this series will serve as a showcase to IPL talent scouts, and someone who does well could fetch handsome contracts come auction time.

West Indies (possible): 1 Rovman Powell, 2 Darren Bravo, 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Sherfane Rutherford, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Carlos Brathwaite (capt), 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Fabian Allen, 9 Khary Pierre , 10 Oshane Thomas, 11 Obed McCoy

Pitch and conditions

Ever since the Eden Gardens pitch was relaid a couple of seasons ago, it has had good bounce and carry for the pacers. Under lights, the ball tends to move a bit too. As it is in all T20 matches though, the batsmen shouldn't have too difficult a time.

The weather has taken a turn for the more pleasant, and the rain is expected to stay away on Sunday.

Stats and trivia

  • 76.06 - Rohit Sharma's batting average at the Eden Gardens, across formats. In 20 innings here, he has crossed 50 eight times, going on to a century four times - including on Test debut.

  • 17.1 - the strike rate for pacers in T20 games at the Eden Gardens. It's considerably higher than the 19.7 for spinners, giving more weight to the 'pace at Eden' theory.

Quotes

"Not just Russell and Pollard, but the rest of their team has also played a lot of T20 cricket, just like our team. They have their own league, and have more experience and it's a format they enjoy the most. At the same time, they've found T20 success as well. We have to play good cricket to beat them, it won't be that easy."
Rohit Sharma on West Indies' T20I team being stronger than their ODI team

"We'd like that to read 8-2 after the T20Is, but India start off as favourites."
Carlos Brathwaite when told that West Indies have a 5-2 record against India in T20Is