As West Indies ambled across the finish line in Pune, India ought to have wondered where their own finisher was. Did he not oscillate between Nos. 5 and 6 once upon a time? Is that now a fable from the past? A look at the scorecard will tell you that in those positions he still dwells, at least in body, but not so much in spirit. A little over a hundred required, at a whisker under a run a ball, and Virat Kohli at the other end, was a situation that would have fit MS Dhoni of yore better than his own batting glove. But what transpired in Pune has become characteristic of India in recent times: an inability to close matches without a heavy contribution from two of the top three. It's not that India have endured too many defeats since the Champions Trophy, but when they have, the failings have been similar.
Part of the reason India haven't had a consistently firing middle order for a while is also because they haven't needed one. Most times, like in the first ODI in Guwahati , or in Nottingham against England a few months ago, two of the top three went on to get substantial scores. Same was the case during the Asia Cup, except in the final, where India limped to a last-ball win.
Since the 2015 World Cup, India's top three have averaged nearly 62, 16 more than the next best England. But the chasm - sometimes as a consequence, at other times not - between the contribution of the top three and that of Nos 5, 6 and 7 is also by far the widest for India among top teams during the same period.
West Indies, on the other hand, made a pleasant discovery that really should have been apparent from the beginning. The key to dismantling India, who are now a stronger force with the ball, is beating their top order. While scoring in excess of 300 was a priority emphasised by their captain, it is ironic, but not entirely surprising, that in the only ODI that they have won so far, they actually fell short of that mark by 17 runs. What they managed, however, was dismissing three of India's top four for less than fifty, leaving Kohli to fight a familiarly forlorn battle, like he has often had to in recent overseas Tests. Ranked No. 9, West Indies don't suddenly become favourites against India, who are No. 2 on the table, but should they produce an encore of all the things they did right in the third ODI, they could well become the only team to beat India twice in a home ODI series since October 2016.
West Indies WTLLW
In the spotlight
The moth-eaten adage that absence from the side enhances a player's worth could not have been truer in Kedar Jadhav's case. His return from the hamstring injury suffered in the Asia Cup final means that India don't have to bowl out all their premier bowlers should one of them have an off-day. They have been forced to do so in all three matches so far. His bowling remains an inscrutable mystery, as he continues to keep scoring rates down and also pick up crucial wickets as well. The low trajectory with which he bowls makes it difficult to get under the ball unless it is taken on the full. Some of West Indies' batsmen, who have a predilection for aerial shots over midwicket, could be lbw candidates against his painfully slow grubbers. In his primary role, with the bat, Jadhav has consistently played inconspicuous cameos that have made a discernible difference to India's totals. His return augers well for a misfiring middle-order.
Shai Hope has so far succeeded in playing a role one may have expected the experienced Marlon Samuels to carry out. Amid the cacophony, as wickets tumbled in Pune, he artfully held the innings together and took it deep enough for Ashley Nurse's cameo to influence the result of the match. In a line-up bristling with impetuous power-hitters, who are a perfect fit for their time, Hope's match-awareness has been timeless.
Ravindra Jadeja was left out for pacer Khaleel Ahmed, perhaps in anticipation of dew. It is likely that he will return, not just because Khaleel was smacked for 65 in ten overs, but also because India's lower-order needs bolstering. With fitness concerns behind him and match practice under his belt, Jadhav should also walk back into the side, but who goes out for him might be a trickier question for India to answer.
India (probable XI): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Rishabh Pant/Kedar Jadhav, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Barring injury, West Indies have little reason to change a line-up that has fared progressively better through the ODI series. In all likelihood, they will field the same side that leveled the series in Pune.
West Indies (probable XI): 1 Chandrapaul Hemraj, 2 Kieran Powell, 3 Shai Hope (wk), 4 Shimron Hetmeyer, 5 Marlon Samuels, 6 Rovman Powell, 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Fabian Allen/Ashley Nurse, 9 Obed McCoy, 11 Kemar Roach
Pitch and conditions
Administrative issues forced the fourth ODI to be shifted from Wankhede to the Brabourne stadium. Apart from the pin code, it is hard to say what else might be in common between the venues. While the last two first-class matches here were reasonably high scoring, the last of those was a tour match between India A and Australia that took place in February 2017. The last international at the venue was a Test match between India and Sri Lanka back in 2009, where Virender Sehwag came within seven runs of what could have been his third triple hundred.
Stats and trivia
- West Indies' victory in Pune was only their fifth against India in India since January 2007
- Kuldeep Yadav is India's highest wicket-taker in ODis in 2018. He has 41 from 17 matches, at an average of 18. Nine more strikes and he'll topple Rashid Khan off No. 1