Kochi: India will seek to reaffirm their supremacy in the shorter version of the game as they go into a five-match ODI series against an under-strength West Indies here tomorrow with the prime focus of preparing for the upcoming cricket World Cup.
With five series victories against the Caribbean side, including three away series since 2006-07 under their belt, India would be looking to keep their winning record intact as they start the series as clear favourites.
MS Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo. Pic/ Getty Images
The hosts are expected to have little trouble against the lowly West Indians, who are further handicapped with mystery spinner Sunil Narine being withdrawn from the tour following his "illegal" bowling action reported during the Champions League T20.
The Windies are also without their run machine Chris Gayle, whose absence will certainly dent their chances. While the threat of rain looms large over the first ODI tomorrow, the fans would be hoping to see the two teams in action.
The home team will be keen to take a 1-0 lead at this ground where they dethroned Australia in January last year, before beating the West Indians last November at the same venue.
The series is crucial to India's preparation to defend their World Cup title next year and the players will be looking to put up solid performances. Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led India are a well balanced side with both batsmen, barring the prolonged slump of Virat Kohli, and bowlers in good nick.
Selectors have picked Murali Vijay in place of injured Rohit Sharma but it remains to be seen whether he or Ajinkya Rahane would open the innings with Shikhar Dhawan. For Virat Kohli, there won't be a better opportunity to get back into form. The middle-order looks strong with the likes of Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu and Dhoni in the ranks.
In the bowling department, Mohit Sharma would be the one to watch out for as he has been progressing well under Dhoni for Chennai Super Kings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav complete the pace quartet for India with experienced Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja manning the spin department. It would interesting to see if 19-year-old left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav is picked up in the playing eleven tomorrow.
In contrast, the West Indians will have to play out of their skin if they want to make any impression. But they would certainly take confidence from their recent win against Bangladesh. At least seven out of 15 West Indian players know the Indian conditions well, having played in the IPL and CLT20 and that would obviously come in handy.
Last November Darren Sammy made way for Dwayne Bravo as captain of the side in the first of their three match series, but Bravo had a nightmarish time. This time around, he must be planning things differently to counter the Indians at their own backyard.
Bravo would be pinning his hopes on experienced players like Darren Sammy, Darren Bravo and Kieron Pollard to come good with the bat. With 98 ODI wickets against his name, Jerome Taylor will be looking to reach the landmark of 100 wickets here itself. Taylor's return to the team has strengthened West Indian pace attack with the likes of Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul already in the line-up.
But their spinning department sans Narine is a cause of concern. The onus is now on left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, Narine's replacement, to deliver for his team.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Murali Vijay, Kuldeep Yadav.
West Indies: Dwayne Bravo (C), Darren Bravo, Jason Holder, Leon Johnson, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russel, Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Taylor.
Match starts at 2.30 pm (IST).