"I am not Jesus Christ. I don't know what's going on in his mind. I know he is really pumped up to play here," said Darren Sammy on Chris Gayle's mood ahead of Sunday's blockbuster ICC World Twenty20 clash between defending champions West Indies and India in Mirpur. This Group of Death clash will see a few 'personal' battles as India aim to overturn their poor T20 record against the colourful Caribbeans.
Gayle has been inconsistent of late. India will be keen to exploit this 'weakness'. If West Indies bat first, Mirpur will see a Gayle versus Ravichandran Ashwin battle straightaway. The Chennai off-spinner opened the bowling against Pakistan and the ploy paid off. It is likely that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will employ this masterstroke once again to keep Gayle quiet. In T20 cricket, it's not always about bagging wickets. If Ashwin can bowl an economical spell against Gayle, India would have won a big mental battle as the middle-order will be under pressure to score.
According to Sunil Gavaskar, Gayle and Dwayne Bravo will be the batsmen India will have to watch out for. Sammy, whose lust for sixes can be dangerous, also figures in Gavaskar's list of Indian 'enemies' in the Caribbean camp. The mood for a 'fight' was already set in a press conference on Saturday where Suresh Raina and Sammy traded verbal volleys. Raina said the West Indians "don't know how to take one's and two's and can only hit sixes." Sammy, normally a friendly and jovial person, seems to have accepted the 'challenge'.
To control a hungry Gayle, India have to bowl well from both ends. Ashwin will need support from the new-ball bowlers who must not be scared to use the fuller-length deliveries. Wide full-tosses have worked well in this format and a lot will depend on how Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowls the yorker-length balls. Interestingly, Gavaskar points out that Mohammed Shami has, for some strange reasons, is shy of bowling yorkers, one of his killer deliveries.
Gavaskar and Anil Kumble are backing Amit Mishra to weave India's fortunes after a wonderful performance against Pakistan in the first match on Friday. But for Mishra to give the ball that extra wristy twist and flight, the fielding has to be top class. On Mishra, Kumble writes in his newspaper column: "A leggie of his quality is always an asset. Even if he has proved expensive at times, he has got the variation to help him get the wickets. The team management's decision to persist with him was handsomely rewarded."
Thus, it won't come as a surprise if India field three spinners as the 12 overs they bowl among themselves will be crucial. Dhoni had hinted after the Pakistan match that Mishra's place was not "taken for granted." Not playing Mishra can backfire on Dhoni, who is not passing the best of times for a few reasons.
Spin will be a 'weapon' for the West Indians, too. Big fight No. 2 will see Virat Kohli taking on Sunil Narine. Although the openers gave a good start against Pakistan, it was Kohli and Suresh Raina who scripted the easy seven-wicket victory with an unbeaten 66-run stand for the fourth wicket. West Indies will rely on Narine's mystery spin to tame Kohli, who has been in supreme touch. The spongy nature of the Mirpur wicket will surely assist the West Indian.
Big fight No. 3 will be an all-Chennai Super Kings encounter. Dhoni, one the top finishers of the game, will be pitted against Dwayne Bravo, a brilliant all-rounder on his day. With so much 'knowledge' on each other, thanks to the Indian Premier League, Sunday's match between India and West Indies actually looks like another IPL clash where top players will be wearing their national colours.
West Indies have been in good touch ever since landing in Bangladesh. They won both their warm-up games against England and Sri Lanka. The defending champions have never lost to India in the World Twenty20. This is one record the Caribbeans will surely like to protect.