The pressure precedent has been set
The rankings might suggest a cosmic difference between the two sides, but, as the first one-day international showed, West Indies had it in them to fight tooth and nail. Despite their poor effort on the field, and despite stuttering in the middle overs, they managed to take the game to the penultimate ball. India's much-vaunted batting line-up was no doubt tested and it ultimately boiled down to a few lucky breaks at the death.
Brian Lara admitted as much after the match. "I don't think we're getting the respect we deserve. We might be No.8 in the rankings but we still have a very good game. It's just that we need to deliver more consistently. India needed every last ounce of energy to beat us. We need to take our game one level up."
West Indies need to address two maladies urgently: the multitude of extras and the shabbiness on the field. India overwhelmed Sri Lanka and Pakistan mainly because of their superiority in the two departments. They conceded 28 extras yesterday, but that can confidently be termed an aberration. Greg Chappell admitted that the players were caught unawares in the morning: "We thought the chances of getting play were zero. Once it started the players took some time to adjust to the conditions. It was really hot and humid out there and we struggled because of that."
India will acclimatise soon. "We've done a lot of work on that area," said Chappell about guarding against the dehydration of players. "Even as recently as the last few weeks, we've done a bit of work on finding out the best research, spoken to a few world leaders and discovered a few things that might make a difference. We've started testing the players from a few days up, making sure they're keeping their fluids up. There are few other products available these days that weren't available earlier. We'll experiment with a few of those and come up with a few answers."
The two big positives for India came in the form of Harbhajan Singh and Mohammad Kaif. The first troubled the likes of Lara and Chris Gayle with turn; the second produced his first fifty in 15 games. One has often failed while bowling away from home, when he doesn't have his favourite SG ball; the other, with nine single digit scores in the last 15 innings, would have seen the axe looming. "We see Kaif as an important member of our side while planning for the World Cup," Chappell stated, "and we knew he would come out of the bad run. He's a very experienced player and this will help his confidence."
On the eve of the game, West Indies had optional nets while the Indians, who were scheduled to have a light stint, were forced to have a pool session. Rain and sunshine alternated, keeping everyone guessing about the forecast. Weathermen predict Saturday to be another day with scattered thunderstorms in Kingston. One certainty, though, is that it won't take too long for Charlie, the groundsman, and his boys to get Sabina Park ready for the clash. The lukewarm spectator response - the ground was hardly half full - disappointed the local authorities but they expect a larger turnout for Saturday's contest.
With another royal sweatfest on the cards, don't forget to bring your handkerchiefs and towels.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Runako Morton, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Marlon Samuels, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Carlton Baugh (wk), 9 Ian Bradshaw, 10 Jerome Taylor, 11 Fidel Edwards.
India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Rahul Dravid (capt), 3 Yuvraj Singh, 4 Mohammad Kaif, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Munaf Patel.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo