New Delhi: After the slow-burn thrills of the Mumbai Test, which ended in a draw with the scores level, the battleground is set for the 50-over format which will kick off with the first of five ODIs at Cuttack on Tuesday. Though most of the boxes are ticked as far as the Indian playing eleven is concerned, there is a thing or two that the team's think-tank needs to ponder about.
Ajinkya Rahane has done well when asked to open the batting in the absence of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the England ODIs - both away and home. But with both regular openers back, it will be a brain-teaser for the team management whether to retain him at the top or fit him elsewhere in the batting order.
Having scored two half-centuries, with a best of 91 in Mohali, Rahane has looked very compact in every aspect of his batting. Whether executing pull shots on the seaming and bouncing tracks of England or applying deft touches on the spin-friendly decks in India, he appeared a cut above his peers who had been given similar tasks before.
And with Parthiv Patel, who was Rahane's opening partner during the England ODIs, set to don MS Dhoni's keeping gloves, and with that a place in the middle-order, it's Rahane who may be asked to bat at No. 3. The other option is for Gambhir to come down a spot, giving the youngster a chance to continue at the top.
If Rahane's conundrum is solved, then the rest of the batsmen select themselves, with the only exception being whether to choose Manoj Tiwary or Rohit Sharma for the No. 6 position. Tiwary has been exceptional for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy lately, scoring 132 against Gujarat and smashing a double-hundred (267) against Madhya Pradesh. Rohit has been similarly prolific since his return from injury. His back-to-back tons against Railways (175) and Rajasthan (100) earned him a Test recall for the third match against West Indies.
Another thing to watch out for in the coming games is the inclusion of Rahul Sharma. The Punjab leg-spinner has been travelling with the Indian team since England’s tour, but is yet to get a look-in.
It would have been a lot better for Rahul, 24, if he was allowed to increase a game or two in his thin-looking tally of first-class matches, instead of making him warm the benches when it became evident in the Tests that he would not get a match. A good showing in the domestic circuit would have been a morale booster for the youngster and given him much-needed match practice. It will be difficult for him to break into the eleven which already has offspinner R Ashwin and slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja. And with the possibility of a fit-again Sehwag rolling his arm over in the middle overs, there is no easy passage for Sharma.
The team will miss Praveen Kumar for the first match due to a niggle. Vinay Kumar will lead the attack in his absence, with Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron battling it out for the other spot. Based on recent form and ability to bowl quick, Yadav is likely to get the nod.
On the other hand, West Indies would be keen to transfer the confidence they got from the nerve-jangling draw in Mumbai to the five-match ODI series. And with some new and exciting faces in the squad, along with the in-form Darren Bravo and dangerous Kieron Pollard, the Caribbean side is capable of giving India a shock or two.
India: Virender Sehwag (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Parthiv Patel (wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Rahul Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar
West Indies: Darren Sammy (c), Adrian Barath, Lendl Simmons, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Danza Hyatt, Anthony Martin, Jason Mohammed, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell