A three-nation One-Day International tournament starting only five days after a big ICC tournament like the Champions Trophy would generally elicit almost no interest from the fans, either on TV or at the stadium. But the Celkon Mobile Cup, to be staged at Kingston and Port of Spain between June 28 and July 11, promises to be different because one of the three participating teams is India.
West Indies, the home side, and Sri Lanka are the other two teams in the fray, but India's presence alone makes it almost inevitable that there will be active interest in the proceedings. Also helping the cause are the proximity to mainland United States, which will attract Indian expats who are only a short flight away, and the 4th of July holiday weekend, although that will be offset somewhat by the fact that the first three matches, in Kingston, will begin at 8.00 pm IST and the last four, including the final, in Port of Spain will start an hour earlier.
Even as the Champions Trophy was being put to bed, Mahendra Singh Dhoni said at the post-match presentation that he would like his team to do well in the West Indies as well. As if to substantiate that claim, India announced an unchanged squad to indicate that they aren't taking this tri-series - which kicks off with West Indies taking on Sri Lanka on Friday (June 28) - lightly. Since then, Irfan Pathan has been ruled out due to a hamstring injury picked up during training and has been replaced by Mohammed Shami, the paceman from Bengal.
West Indies, knocked out of the Champions Trophy by South Africa on net run rate after the teams tied their decisive, rain-marred fixture, would want to restate their credentials as a more than capable limited-overs outfit. A solid performance will get the local fans even more excited in the lead-up to the inaugural Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 tournament, to be held in July-August across five islands.
In recent times, Sri Lanka have suffered heavily at the hands of India, and it was no different when the teams went head to head in the semifinal of the Champions Trophy. Tillakaratne Dilshan suffered a severe calf injury in that game and has returned home along with Thisara Perera. The duo has been replaced by Upul Tharanga and Ajantha Mendis respectively.
This tournament, it should not be forgotten, is being held instead of a full tour by Sri Lanka to the Caribbean. According to the original Future Tests Program (FTP), Sri Lanka were to play two Tests, three ODIs and two Twenty20 Internationals in the West Indies. The schedule was rejigged to allow players from West Indies and Sri Lanka to play in the sixth edition of the IPL. The T20 Internationals have now been done away with, and the two Tests are to be held later, with the dates yet to be decided. Having India in the tournament will help the West Indies Cricket Board realise much needed revenue.
It has been quite hot and humid in Kingston, and even though these conditions aren't alien to any of the teams, they will have to adapt swiftly, coming as they are from the cold and blustery conditions in England and Wales. The pitches in the Caribbean have tended to play slow and low for the last few years and a similar trend is expected to continue, which should suit all teams just fine. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for the match days in Jamaica, which would mean winning the toss becomes significant. Even otherwise, Sabina Park has tended to favour teams chasing, with 18 wins for the team batting second and 13 for the team setting a target.
Both West Indies and Sri Lanka will approach the opening match of the tournament looking for a win to erase memories of their respective Champions Trophy campaigns.
Sri Lanka have fortified their spin resources by adding Ajantha Mendis and have the perennial tango of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to put together a competitive score or chase down anything West Indies put up. Lasith Malinga is deadly against any team not named India which, coupled with the accurate spin of Rangana Herath should make it challenging for West Indies.
But West Indies, playing in front of an expectant Jamaican crowd, have the better balance. They have adequate back-up spin options to Sunil Narine in Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels as well as a long batting line-up. There are fast bowling choices in Tino Best, Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach, with Dwayne Bravo, the captain, Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy offering additional medium pace resources.
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Johnson Charles, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo (capt), Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Ravi Rampaul, Sunil Narine, Tino Best, Kemar Roach, Devon Smith.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews (capt), Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Shaminda Eranga, Ajantha Mendis, Jeevan Mendis, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Sachithra Senanayake.