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(CMC) – A weakened but still dangerous West Indies clash with powerhouses India in the opening Twenty20 International here Sunday, hoping to spring a surprise and also halt their decline in what has become their most successful format.
For the clash at historic Eden Gardens, there will be no Chris Gayle – the most successful batsman ever in T20s – nor any Evin Lewis, who has already plundered two centuries in 17 matches. The reigning World champions will also be without explosive all-rounder Andre Russell and also off-spinner Sunil Narine, both of whom are injured.
It means West Indies start the series with an inexperienced side, comprising five debutants, while fast bowler Keemo Paul and batsmen Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran have played only 15 matches among them.
Left-hander Darren Bravo, meanwhile, has not played international cricket in two years because of a protracted dispute with Cricket West Indies, and the last of his 12 T20s came four years ago.
With Rovman Powell still new to international cricket, much then will rest on the shoulders of veterans Kieron Pollard and Denesh Ramdin, while captain Carlos Brathwaite’s role will also be pivotal.
However, though short on experience, Brathwaite backed the squad to make their mark, pointing out that the young stars were up for the challenge.
“We have a new team – a young, exciting team – and our [Caribbean Premier League] stars, however young and inexperienced they maybe, are ready and raring to go,” Brathwaite told a media conference here Saturday.
“Some of them had a taste in the ODI format and I personally think we did a lot better than a lot of people expected in the ODI format, and it’s for us to come in the T20 format now and create an even bigger surprise and come away with the trophy at the end of the series.
“What we have to face at this point in time is with the squad that we have, which in my opinion is a very exciting squad and it’s for us to find a way to get the best out of each and every player in that squad, to not only challenge and compete but come out victorious against the Indian team.”
Since capturing the T20 World Cup two years ago under the now-discarded Daren Sammy, the Caribbean has struggled, losing 13 of their 23 outings. Inside the last 12 months, they have won just one of nine matches.
In contrast, India have won 11 of their last 14 T20Is inside the last years, and with the in-form Rohit Sharma leading a strong squad, pundits have understandably held out little hope for the Windies.
However, Brathwaite said there was no shame in being labelled underdogs, especially against a strong side home-side.
“India at home in any format are very formidable, especially with the advent of IPL and the amount of T20 cricket that the Indian superstars play – they definitely start as favourites,” he pointed out.
“I guess we’re not accustomed to the underdog tag but we have to take it this time around and it’s not something we’re ashamed of really.”
West Indies have gotten the better of India in their recent meetings. Last year July, they stunned the Indians by nine wickets in Jamaica and the previous year, won a one-run thriller in Florida.
Months earlier, the Windies had also overcome the Indians in Mumbai, in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup, and Brathwaite said he was hoping for similar results in the three-match series.
“I was fortunate to be a part of one those games in Miami which was very, very exciting,” the all-rounder said.
“I know the crowd in Kolkata is always massive so it’s very, very loud. Hopefully we can play a couple more games such as the one in Miami [and] the one in Jamaica which we also came out on top of.
“Hopefully we can have as exciting a battle as we’ve had in those two games and hopefully we can get the same result with the West Indies coming out on top.”
West Indies have endured a difficult tour, losing both Tests inside three days and then going down 3-1 in the subsequent one-day series.
INDIA – Rohit Sharma (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Bumrah, Khaleel Ahmed, Umesh Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem.
WEST INDIES – Carlos Brathwaite (captain), Fabian Allen, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Obed McCoy, Keemo Paul, Khary Pierre, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Rovman Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Sherfane Rutherford, Oshane Thomas.