In the absence of a number of senior players, Shikhar Dhawan name-checked Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, and Sanju Samson, and even added himself to the list of players to watch out for from India, at the toss. Dhawan (97) played a typically risk-free innings, Iyer saw off a barrage of short balls to score 54 off 57; Suryakumar (13) and Samson (12) fell cheaply.
It was Shubman Gill
who had dominated proceedings with a 53-ball 64
. He looked good for a hundred but was eventually run out, which was perhaps the only way he could've been dismissed on Friday at the Queen's Park Oval. Sure, the pitch was easy-paced, the outfield was quick, despite the early-morning rain, and the bowling wasn't too testing in the early exchanges, but the way Gill imposed himself on the West Indies was another reminder of India's enviable bench strength.
Even in this depleted side, Gill might not have been the first-choice option to partner with Dhawan at the top, as the pre-series build-up
had suggested. Ishan Kishan is being groomed as India's back-up opener and keeper in T20Is and then there was Ruturaj Gaikwad, who had racked up a chart-topping 603 runs, including four centuries in five innings for Maharashtra, in the most recent Vijay Hazare Trophy
, India's domestic 50-over competition.
Gill has looked the part in Test cricket at the top, but it is believed that the middle order is his ideal station. India's team management, however, pushed Gill up to the top on his ODI return along with Dhawan, which freed up the space in the middle order for both Suryakumar and Deepak Hooda.
Gill stretched out and belted the first delivery he faced, from fast bowler Jayden Seales, for a tone-setting four. It wasn't a long half-volley - Seales went full in search of some swing - but Gill made it look like one. Then, Alzarri Joseph, West Indies' premier seamer and Gill's IPL team-mate at Gujarat Titans, tucked him up with a shoulder-high short ball, but Gill managed to splice a six over fine leg.
Joseph then adjusted his radar and hit a hard length just outside off. Not many batters can pull or cut off such a length and with such limited width, but Gill has always had this unique ability to put even good balls away right from his Under-19 days. He jumped on top of the bounce and unveiled a VVS Laxman-esque backfoot glide through point and cover.
When Seales went shorter and even wider of off, Gill went airborne and heartily slapped it away past backward point for four more. Formative years of playing on cement wickets have made Gill particularly strong off the backfoot, and he used the extra pace of Joseph and Seales to his advantage after the sun broke through in Port of Spain.
Gill's early dash put Joseph and Seales out of the attack in the powerplay and allowed Dhawan to ease himself in after a couple of low scores in England. Gill didn't let up against the change in bowlers too: he advanced at medium pacer Kyle Mayers and shovelled him with the bottom wrist over mid-on for four in his first over.
Then, when left-arm fingerspinner Gudakesh Motie was brought into the attack in the next over, Gill charged at him too and launched him over mid-on for six. He pressed on to bring up a 36-ball half-century; India were 88 for 0 in 12 overs at that stage.
Nicholas Pooran then swooped down on the ball at midwicket and effected a direct hit at the non-striker's end to cut Gill's knock short in the 18th over. India then lost some steam after Gill's dismissal and were restricted to 308 for 7, when they were poised for an even bigger total.
"It was a good wicket to bat on and I definitely enjoyed batting on this wicket," Gill told the host broadcaster at the innings break. "I was very gutted with the way I got out but overall, it was a good experience.
"We are very excited to get this opportunity [in the absence of seniors] to play here in this beautiful stadium and we posted a good total. Hopefully, we will be on the winning side of this."
India's bowlers then found grip on a surface that slowed down considerably, ensuring the total proved just enough in the end, despite a late rally from West Indies. The mid-innings slowdowns in both innings sort of put Gill's opening assault into perspective. Kyle Mayers (75), too, was quick off the blocks in the powerplay in West Indies' chase but wasn't as quick as Gill on the day. During his IPL-winning stint with Titans, Gill showed that he could similarly turn up the tempo
Rohit Sharma and Dhawan, and Rohit and KL Rahul, are still India's first-choice opening pairs in ODI and T20I cricket, respectively. Kishan, Gaikwad and Prithvi Shaw, whose List A strike rate of almost 125 after 44 games is hard to ignore although he is not part of this Caribbean tour, are also part of the top-order queue. For now, though, Gill has earned his chance to try and sneak ahead with his successful re-emergence in the ODI side.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo