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Roach's return, spinners and other combination questions for West Indies

The upcoming series will give West Indies an opportunity to get acclimatised to the conditions ahead of next year's World Cup

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Kemar Roach expresses disappointment as Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli get runs, 3rd ODI, West Indies vs India, Queens Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, August 14, 2019

Kemar Roach hasn't been part of the ODI mix since August 2019  •  Randy Brooks/AFP/Getty Images

"It's hurting and hurting very badly."
Kieron Pollard was point blank when asked to sum up his thoughts as West Indies crashed and burned to a 2-1 series loss to Ireland at home. That was in mid-January.
Then, they flexed their T20 muscle against powerhouses England in a series that yo-yoed wildly before West Indies nicked it 3-2. Even before they could perhaps soak in Jason Holder's inspirational words of how he felt "this group was the closest he's even been a part of" in the aftermath of that performance, they were on a plane, flying across continents to arrive in Ahmedabad for a short white-ball tour.
Having cleared the three-day isolation requirements, West Indies held their first training session at Motera on Friday, ahead of Sunday's first ODI. If the general sense around India has been that their T20 game is an extension of their ODI game, it's the bang opposite for the West Indies.
With the next 50-over World Cup also to be held in India in 2023, this is another opportunity for them to try and figure out combinations that work well for them in these conditions. As such, several players will also be up for grabs at the IPL auction, which could help them get acclimatised further. For now, there's an opportunity to build forward, and put behind their ODI series loss at home to Ireland.
And as always, there are a few talking points as we look ahead to the series.
Roach's return
Against Ireland, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph and Odean Smith formed the pace attack. Sheldon Cottrell, who wasn't part of the series, has been in the mix as part of the larger group along with Chemar Holder, Oshane Thomas and Shannon Gabriel. But lack of consistency and underwhelming returns have meant looking inwards again. West Indies needed a strike bowler to reduce the burden on Holder. Enter Kemar Roach.
He hasn't been part of the ODI mix since August 2019. In fact, he hasn't played any form of white-ball cricket since then. But in the interim, he has regularly been troubling batting line-ups with the red ball, both for West Indies and in the county circuit in England. In 2020, he became the ninth West Indies fast bowler to pick up 200 Test wickets. Roach isn't the tearaway 145kph quick of old. Injuries - stress fractures and dodgy knees - have played a part in his pace down to the mid-130s but he is a lot smarter with his angles and lengths. New selector Desmond Haynes believes Roach's freshness, hunger and striking ability with the new ball could make a difference to the West Indies. Roach's hard lengths and accuracy could challenge India if they're looking to break away from their safety-first powerplay template.
A new opening combination
The middle order will be manned by Shamrah Brookes, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Fabian Allen and Odean Smith. But they must identify an opening combination with Evin Lewis recovering from Covid-19 and Shimron Hetmyer, who opened in the home ODIs against Australia last year, not part of the tour either. In Hetmyer's case, it's his fitness that "continues to let him and his team-mates down," according to head coach Phil Simmons. So, who partners Shai Hope, the accumulator (he strikes at 74.96), at the top?
Against Ireland, West Indies tried out Justin Greaves, who struggled in all three matches, managing scores of 7, 10 and 12. He didn't play in the CPL and was largely picked on the back of two half-centuries in the Regional Super 50s in February last year. Now, Greaves has been dropped.
Haynes has spoken about how players doing well in one format could open the door to another. And in line with this philosophy, Nkrumah Bonner and Brandon King are back in the ODI mix. Bonner played the last of his three ODIs 13 months ago. King, more-recently, had a decent tour of Pakistan, and got off to starts against England. One of these two could be trusted with the job again.
The spin factor
Motera laid out dust bowls when England visited for the Tests last year. That is not going to happen in the shorter formats, however. Roston Chase, seen as an all-round option and more than capable with his offspin, isn't here. West Indies have got legspinner Hayden Walsh and left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein to shore up their spin stocks. Walsh hasn't been particularly consistent, while Hosein has form on his side, though, having picked up a four-for last week in the series deciding T20I against England. But he largely has been the restrictive bowler who fires them in with the new ball in T20 cricket. The bigger boundaries and potentially slower surfaces in Motera could be a test of their adaptability.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo