After three days spent recuperating from their exertions over South Africa, the Indians trained in the cold of London, under the imposing gaze of The Oval’s steep, old pavilion.
After Cardiff, without the tempering influence of the ocean, an empty cricket ground suddenly seems a lot more frigid. The batsmen turned out in their thermals and half-sleeved pullovers at the nets; Virat Kohli did his fielding drills with gloves on; Vinay Kumar, perhaps happier in the perennial mildness of Bangalore, bowled with a skull cap pulled down over his ears.
The West Indians did not seem particularly enamoured with the chill either. Their coach Ottis Gibson was only half-joking when he wished it was “10 degrees warmer.” “We’re warm-blooded creatures; we from the Caribbean and you from India.”
It will be in this biting, alien air then that India and the West Indies meet for their Group ‘B’ Champions Trophy tie on Tuesday. Victory here will help but not guarantee progress to the semifinals; defeat, similarly, will not mean elimination.
India arrives here on the back of a strong win over South Africa, but conditions in Wales — where, on a fine batting strip, both sides crossed 300 — were vastly different. Here at The Oval, both sets of fast bowlers prospered when the West Indies played Pakistan on Friday.
Acclimatising to these conditions, where the rival already holds the upper hand, will thus be India’s primary task. The team did not practise in the three days since Cardiff; it is to be seen if that will come to matter.
The surface that hosted the Pakistan game is to be pressed into service again; whether this second use will mean some departure from its lively nature, as M.S. Dhoni believed, or not affect it greatly, as Gibson said he had been told by the ground-staff, will have to be observed.
In any event, Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul will relish the prospect of bowling with the new ball under these skies. The West Indies captain Dwayne Bravo, whose skills at the death Dhoni is more than aware of, also holds some threat.
These bowlers may not induce fear in India’s fine batsmen, but they will be effective.
While Bhuvneshwar Kumar — the best swing bowler in the side — and Umesh Yadav will doubtless enjoy the thought of operating here, India could also consider fielding an extra seam bowler. This would have to come, however, at the expense of either Ravindra Jadeja or R. Ashwin, both of whom are hard to ignore.
Should Ashwin be left out, though, Suresh Raina — who sent down six overs in the opening game — and Rohit Sharma can provide cover.
The West Indies’ batsmen may not be the most consistent in the world but in Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, and Kieron Pollard further down the order, there is endless potential for damage.
Except for the three, no player crossed 20 in the last game as the West Indies hobbled over the line in its chase of 170. As such, stopping them will be foremost on Dhoni’s mind.
The IPL has made both sets of players greatly familiar with each other. Bravo, Gayle, Pollard and Sunil Narine have shared changing rooms with their Indian adversaries. This should make for some warm exchanges; in any case, the teams are already united by their hatred for the cold.
The teams (from): India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), M. Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra, Irfan Pathan, Vinay Kumar.
West Indies: Dwayne Bravo (capt.), Chris Gayle, Johnson Charles, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Darren Sammy, Jason Holder, Devon Smith, Tino Best.