Dwayne Bravo's final-over heroics have got the Caribbean stirring. Suddenly the streets and bars are more abuzz with cricket than with football and there have even been suggestions, albeit prematurely, about the re-emergence of the West Indies. Brian Lara and his boys have shown what they can do. Now, as the teams prepare for the joust at St Kitts, it's a question of who will blink first.
If the entire population of St Kitts and Nevis is packed into the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, the stadium will only be half full. India's third one-day international, to be staged in miniscule Basseterre, will be the first-ever international game at Warner Park and the enthusiasm is so high that Tuesday has been declared a national holiday. Locals still talk about a disappointing day in the late '70s, when a World Series game was washed out. St Kitts is yet to produce an international cricketer but that hasn't diminished the frenzied interest for the contest.
Both sides had a light work-out session on the eve of the match. The practice pitches were a bit slow and damp, something that Bennett King hoped would be rectified soon. Virender Sehwag's two indifferent performances prompted speculation; as did Irfan Pathan's two failures at No.3 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's position at No.7. None of this is, however, likely to affect Rahul Dravid and Co. India may continue to make changes - both in personnel and in batting strategy - yet panic they won't. You don't win 19 of your last 26 games without possessing a certain mental steel. As far as personnel go Sreesanth may come in for Munaf Patel, while West Indies may replace Jerome Taylor with Corey Colleymore.
One thing they will have to combat is Lara's captaincy, whose leadership proved vital in the climactic stages of the second game. "He showed some courage with the bowling changes," added King, "rotated the field in between overs and kept key fielders in key positions. I enjoy people who take risks and he's someone who does that." Lara will not die wondering; India can expect a few more surprises.
Only two games, of any sort, have been held here before - both when St Kitts took on a visiting Lancashire side. First-innings scores of 197 and 210 don't sound too promising for the batsmen, bringing visions of the second game at Sabina Park, but Bennett King felt differently. "It looks flat and should produce a lot of runs. The short boundaries and beautiful outfield will be conducive for the batsmen." Steadroy Douglas, the chief groundsman, predicts 260. Ramnaresh Sarwan concurred. In the end, they all may be right; or all may be wrong. The beauty lies in the uncertainty.
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 Corey Collymore, 11 Fidel Edwards.
India (probable) 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mohammad Kaif, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Ramesh Powar, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Sreesanth.