On paper, it’s a dead rubber. On Diwali eve, when Rohit Sharma’s firecracker century at Lucknow gave India an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match T20 international series, West Indies had been left with virtually nothing to play for in Chennai. Also, the Chepauk game is coming after a five-day gap due to the Diwali festivities — a seemingly painstaking wait for the visitors. In a full series comprising two Tests, five ODIs and three T20Is West Indies so far have managed to win just one game; the third ODI in Pune. They must have liked an early sign-off.
And yet, from the players’ point of view the final T20I at Chepauk on Sunday is not an inconsequential fixture. No T20I in India can be inconsequential, especially with the next IPL only a few months away. Trading is on and we already have a high-profile transfer — Shikhar Dhawan moving to Delhi Daredevils from Sunrisers Hyderabad. So, even the dead rubber in Chennai becomes an audition for the players from both sides who aspire to attract lucrative bids from the IPL franchises.
This makes tomorrow’s game relevant, notwithstanding the fact that India have decided to rest Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav to allow them to be “in the best physical condition” for the upcoming tour of Australia. Their absence creates opportunities for the likes of Washington Sundar and Siddarth Kaul. An allround show from the local boy, Sundar, or a few death-overs yorkers from Kaul can help raise their IPL stocks. With Kuldeep rested, Yuzvendra Chahal is expected to return to the playing XI. The leggie is yet to feature in the ongoing T20I series and there could some added motivation for him to perform.
As for the visitors, the majority of them have gotten used to living with the ‘franchise cricket mercenaries’ tag. And so far, Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer have shown enough promise during the ODIs to make the IPL franchises interested. Hope and Hetmyer, however, have failed to carry forward their 50-over form to T20s and Chennai offers them one more chance for course correction. The IPL auctions hardly follow a specific pattern and a quickfire hundred, for example, could well throw up the possibilities of a million-dollar contract.
Khary Pierre impressed on his T20I debut in Kolkata, taking 1/16 in four overs. The 27-year-old left-arm spinner had a good Caribbean Premier League for Trinbago Knight Riders this term — 11 wickets in seven matches at an economy rate of 5.65. Although Pierre proved very expensive at Lucknow, a good game at Chepauk will firmly put him on the IPL franchises’ radar.
And there’s Oshane Thomas, the new West Indies fast-bowling sensation. His captain Carlos Brathwaite has enthusiastically endorsed the youngster’s potential; that with proper nurturing Thomas could become “another Joel Garner or Michael Holding”. With 145kph being his average speed and the ability to hit the right areas, Thomas could be a hot property at the IPL auction. He would like to enhance his reputation.
There’s enough incentive then to raise the intensity level. Chepauk is hosting an international fixture after a gap of about 14 months and a decent turnout is expected. The pitch here traditionally assists spin but dew could be a factor, especially in the second half.
West Indies came to this series, boasting of a 5-2 head-to-head record against India in T20Is. The defending T20 world champions were expected to revel in their favourite format. They missed the stars like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine alright. Evin Lewis’s unavailability made matters worse. Still, the fledglings had been tipped to be competitive in their natural habitat. Things didn’t quite go to plan and as ‘keeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin said at the pre-match presser today, Kuldeep Yadav was the reason. “Guys haven’t been able to pick him, and basically he was been one of the threats in the middle-overs and unfortunately we couldn’t push on.” Kuldeep accounted for five scalps, including a Man-of-the-Match performance at Eden Gardens, in two matches at an economy rate of 5.62.
‘Food on the table’
For so long now, the West Indies cricket is caught in the franchise cricket versus the national team quagmire. Big players pretty often choose different T20 leagues over T20Is, and almost everybody associated with the set-up seems to have accepted the harsh reality with a touch of resignation. “It’s difficult to build a team given the current scenario. When you look at our T20 players they are in demand all over the world, so yes, we are suffering in that aspect. Our senior players did not turn up for the tour, and that’s one of the reasons why we are 2-0 down in this series,” Ramdin said, adding: “It’s all about having food on the table. (If) the players are good enough to be taken by a team in another part of the world, then I can’t stop a player who’s out there to improve.”