Brian Lara will be crucial for West Indies' hopes © Getty Images

It's quite intriguing that despite having played 15 one-dayers in the West Indies, India are yet to play a game at Sabina Park. The two games that were scheduled on their previous tour, in 2001-02 were both washed out and a spate of showers on match eve, and forecast for thunder showers, threatened to ruin a much-anticipated clash. The locals, though, were confident that the match would carry on uninterrupted and spells of bright sunshine added weight to the same.

Now to the 22 yards that usually receives most of the attention. Charlie, the groundsman who's been around since 1959, delivers an obituary on the bounce at Sabina Park. "It's the clay you know, they change it sometime in the early '90s. Then they relaid it and it lost its main quality. Now it's slowly coming back. The pitch for the one-day games will have decent bounce, but the ball comes on to the bat. The Test match pitch will be different. More bounce, more pace."

Jeffrey Dujon, the legendary wicketkeeper who grew up playing on this ground, thought similarly. "This pitch will be different compared to what the Indians encounter at the other venues," he told Cricinfo. "It can get a bit lively out here and bowlers will definitely have a say." Would he pick a favourite? "For the sake of the series, I'd like to see it 1-1 after two games."

For that to materialise, Brian Lara's boys may need to pull out a special performance. "One must remember," Dujon points out, "and that's the bottom line - it's going to be No.3 against No.8. West Indies' might have comprehensively beaten Zimbabwe but they weren't up to the mark in all departments." India, on the other hand, were coming off a sizzling run. In case he's a numbers man, and is aware of India's recent chasing record, Lara wouldn't like to be fielding second. Dravid might not mind it either way and the game at Montego Bay would have given them a good workout while batting first.

In all probability, this series might turn into a battle of flexibility with Dwayne Bravo, Dwyane Smith, Marlon Samuels and Chris Gayle on one side pitted against Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh on the other. Barring a minor miracle, Ramesh Powar will not play and Dravid hinted that Sreesanth would be allowed time to recuperate as well.

Yet, none of these players' performance may matter if one man decides to take matters into his own magical hands. Lara remains the talisman and has often made a mockery of plans and strategies. He's back as captain and this series provides him a chance to assert himself and to inspire through personal performance.

Kingston is abuzz. Most haven't seen too many players in this side and there's an anticipation to watch Irfan Pathan bowl, to watch Yuvraj Singh blast. But the real excitement surrounds Dhoni, especially because of his instinct to dominate, his audacity to invent new strokes, and his attacking methods even when under pressure. "This boy born in the West Indies maan," said one spectator when Dhoni spanked a six outside Jarrett Park in Montego Bay. "You stole him away from us." It's that kind of endearment.

There's a small matter of the Indian coach as well. Greg Chappell, Dujon felt, wouldn't have forgotten the hammering that Australia took against the mighty West Indian side of the '80s. "He had a terrible time against us in the only series I played against him. He could not score a run and people keep such things in mind. He would surely try to get back at us."

India (probable)
1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Rahul Dravid (capt), 3 Yuvraj Singh, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Mohammad Kaif, 6 Venugopal Rao, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Rudra Pratap Singh, 11 Munaf Patel

West Indies (probable)
1 Chris Gayle, 2 Runako Morton, 3 Brian Lara (capt), 4 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Dwayne Smith, 8 Carlton Baugh (wk), 9 Jerome Taylor, 10 Fidel Edwards, 11 Corey Collymore.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo