WACA Perth, Australia
If this match were to take place in 1992 (or any edition before that) on the WACA, India needn’t even have bothered to show up. The West Indies cricket team were a feared lot, and produced enough jaw-breaking, toe-crushing, wind-shattering quick bowlers through those decades to be assured full points on the world’s fastest pitch.
However, since the turn of the century, not only has the WACA slowed down considerably, the West Indians have become a mediocre team with quicks that don’t consider consistency as a career trait, and the Indians have somehow even managed a test victory at this ground without a single ‘fast’ bowler. Times have changed, and the West Indies of yore is no more. They’d want, desperately, to reclaim a glimpse of that glory though, and there’s no better ground to flex their muscles in.
Along with New Zealand, India remains the only unbeaten team in this World Cup so far. Admirably, they’ve beaten two ‘top’ teams in South Africa and Pakistan, and are yet to face the lesser teams of Zimbabwe and Ireland. Against the run of play, this Indian team has found form when it counts. For 3 months, they didn’t win a single game on their tour, but as soon as another ICC tournament—the mother of them all—got underway, they became a different team. Suddenly, Dhawan has become the man we saw at the Champions’ Trophy, Kohli has quickly forgotten his tri-series debacle, Raina looks beefier and stronger, and the bowlers, especially Shami and Ashwin, look like the wily clever bowler Zaheer was in 2011. Pakistan weren’t good enough, South Africa let the pressure get to them, and UAE were simply blown away. Dhoni and his men must be on an all-time high, and going into the exact same West Indies game they experienced on Holi in the World Cup four years ago, they will be overwhelming favorites.
Unless. Unless. Gayle gets going.
X-factor: Rohit Sharma
Holder’s boys have been thrashed and humiliated twice, and they’ve humiliated and thrashed Pakistan and Zimbabwe on the way too. This is, in a way, quite a crucial game for them. Losing to Ireland in their first match compelled them to beat a ‘major’ team in Pakistan, but they will want to defeat the in-form Indian team to prove that they’re a blinding flash in the pan. They’re never going to be consistent or predictable, which is where they become exciting to watch. For starters, Gayle and co. will have to bat first if they’re to make a contest out of it. They’re terrible chasers, and Gayle almost always falls to Ashwin while chasing. With Darren Bravo out of the tournament, they have no solidity in the middle order—which is why Samuels seems to have taken up the role of slowing down things. Lendl Simmons must consider opening the innings with Gayle, with Smith out of sorts at the top. Guys like Sammy, Russell and Holder need to be given more time at the bottom to finish the innings with their trademark swagger. The bowlers must still be traumatized after yet another ABd mauling, but their destruction at the hands of Ireland didn’t affect them much for the Pakistan game. In short, momentum, form and confidence hold no importance for this West Indian team.
X-factor: Darren Sammy
India, on form. West Indies, if they feel like.