The most inconsistent team in the Carib Beer Cricket Series has returned to Barbados with a new lease on life.
India "A", badly beaten here inside three days immediately after their late arrival in the Caribbean six weeks ago, would have been on their way home had they not won last weekend against dethroned Cup champions Jamaica.
The win lifted them from seventh to sixth in the points table on 33 points and victory against cellar-placed West Indies "B" in their rescheduled first round match at Kensington Oval, starting today, will leapfrog them to third position and into the semifinals of the International Challenge.
"We know this is do or die for us," team coach Ashok Malhotra told WEEKENDSPORT during a practice session at Weymouth yesterday. "The Jamaica game has given us a new lease on life. We are hoping to get 12 points against West Indies "B".
"If we get 12, we are in, otherwise we are going home. The boys know the job is cut out for them."
For a team that includes at least six players with international experience, the Indians have not lived up to expectations.
They could be excused for the match against Barbados when they would not have been fully acclimatised.
"It has been a roller-coaster ride. The match which really hurts me is the Windwards one, which we lost outright after beating Trinidad and Tobago outright," Malhotra said. "We all know Windwards is not a great side."
Malhotra, who was part of Kapil Dev's team that played five Tests in the West Indies in 1983, attributes the India "A" team's inconsistency to his batsmen.
"The batters we have on this tour, once they pass 30s and 40s back home they score hundreds and big hundreds," he said. "In about 50 (individual) innings we have only one hundred to show for it. The batsmen are getting 20s and 30s and getting out."
It has nothing to do with adjusting to conditions, he added.
"The pitches are more or less like back home. We haven't seen any bouncy tracks in the Caribbean. When I came here 20 years back, the ball used to bounce much more."
Some of their batsmen have done reasonably well, however. Left-handed opener Gautam Gambhir has four half-centuries and an aggregate of 508 runs (ave. 46.18), while fellow opener Akash Chopra has 455 runs (ave. 41.36) with a highest of 174.
After the match against Jamaica which India "A" won by two wickets with the help of an unbroken ninth wicket half-century stand, they are quietly confident better things are ahead.
"It was a launching pad for us. We know that if we play one good game, we are playing Guyana, whom we had a good game against. We know what we can do to them," Malhotra said. "I feel if we beat West Indies "B", I think we might go through to the finals."
Victory against the youngsters will put them in third place and it will give them a semifinal berth against the defending international champions. The other semi would therefore bring together new Cup champions Barbados and Jamaica at Kensington, starting a week from today.
If India "A" fail to win, Barbados will host Trinidad and Tobago in the semis, which will also feature Guyana and Jamaica in Georgetown.
India "A" are hoping captain VVS Laxman, who missed the match against Jamaica with a back injury, will be fit to take his place. He batted in the nets yesterday, but the decision will be left to him just prior to the start of the match.
The tourists will definitely be without left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, who broke his thumb while fielding to his own bowling against Jamaica.