Most of the attention after India's victory in the first T20I against West Indies in Lauderhill was lavished on debutant Navdeep Saini, Man of the Match for his three-wicket haul that helped restrict West Indies to 95 for 9. The hidden brilliance of that effort, however, was that it nullified an opportunity for West Indies to combat the left-arm spin threat of Krunal Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, according to Carlos Brathwaite.
Speaking after his side's four-wicket loss, the West Indies captain credited Saini and the new-ball pair of offspinner Washington Sundar and fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar for wiping out a left-handed-heavy top five in the Powerplay, thus heaping pressure on the right-handed batsmen in the West Indies middle order. With the side reeling at 33 for 5 after the Powerplay, the right-handed duo of Brathwaite and Kieron Pollard were left to grind runs with the ball spinning away from them when Krunal and Jadeja did finally arrive in the ninth over.
"We're very aware that it was a possibility that they would play two left-arm spinners or a left-arm spinner and a legspinner, hence the batting order was set the way it was set," Brathwaite said. "However, none of the left-handers got out to left-arm spinners, so the match-up eventually didn't happen. But we were cognizant of that fact and we tried to set the team and the line-up in such a way that we can combat that in the middle overs."
Brathwaite also defended the decision to keep Sunil Narine down the order at No. 8. In the time since Narine last played for West Indies in any format - a T20I against England at Durham in September 2017 - he has transformed himself, gaining legitimate all-round credentials with explosive batting on the T20 franchise circuit. That transformation has been seen most notably with Kolkata Knight Riders and Trinbago Knight Riders, and more recently with Montreal Tigers in the Global T20 Canada, where he smacked 59 off 30 balls on July 26. Against India, Narine ended up with 2 off 4 balls, out caught on the boundary.
Brathwaite, however, said the team's plan was to bat Pollard at No. 4, and he saw no reason to change that plan, with West Indies 8 for 2 after two overs and Sundar turning the ball away from left-handers at one end.
"Would you send in a pinch-hitter at 12 for 2?" Brathwaite responded when asked why Narine was not brought in sooner. "Pollard was always slated to bat at four. As we mentioned, with them having two left-arm spinners, the next top-order batsman is Hetmyer, who is also a left-hand batter and Washington Sundar was on.
"So to expose all four left-hand top-order batsmen to the offspinner and then expose all three middle to lower-order right-handers to the left-arm spinners wouldn't have been smart in our opinion, hence why we stuck with Pollard at four. I honestly don't see the necessity of sending Narine at 12 or 10 or 8, however much it was for 2."
Brathwaite praised Pollard and Narine as the duo made their return to maroon colours. Playing his first match for West Indies since the tour of India in November 2018, Pollard top-scored with 49, on the same ground where he scored his career-best 63 not out against New Zealand in 2012.
"Today, Pollard had enough time to bat himself in and get to a well-played fifty in my opinion," Brathwaite said. "As we can see, the top order from India, I don't think they got to fifty between the three, four or five of them. So I think we must give Pollard credit as opposed to thinking what we could have done differently. Sometimes you just got to hold your hand up. We weren't good enough. I don't think we were. They bowled better on the pitch than we did and we didn't get enough runs.
"It was brilliant to have them both back and obviously you see what they bring to the team, Pollard with the bat, Sunil with the ball. That experience is invaluable. He's [Pollard] been doing it in IPL at all numbers from four straight back down to eight, sometimes nine, and it just goes to show he was able to exude batsmanship. He rebuilt it in the Powerplay. Then once the spinners came on, he stroked the ball up and down and got some boundaries in between as well. So it was a fantastic knock by him.
"If the team had supported him a bit more, we'd have gotten to a bigger total and probably he'd have been able to put in a better personal performance. But congrats to him, very very well played and then to Sunil, to come with the ball and do what he did. Obviously we must commend the pacers for setting up the Powerplay the way they did and then building the platform for Sunil to do what he did with the ball."
Brathwaite pointed to shot selection and assessment as factors behind West Indies' defeat, but insisted the side would not give up on attacking, positive cricket.
"We are going to play with positive, aggressive intent, as our instinct as West Indians allows us to play. So the message will continue to be to keep the intent," he said. "However, we need to assess better and be a bit smarter in shot selection. So it's not about not trying to get boundaries, but knowing that if you get a boundary early in the over on a tough pitch, you can settle for 6-7-8 an over. Get deeper (into the innings) and then our power at the back end - myself, Pollard, (Rovman) Powell coming in at the back end in the last five overs or so, we can probably get up to 150 today."