There will be no conflict of interest when Indian go head on with the West Indies in a Champions Trophy match here at The Oval on Tuesday. With a semifinal berth looming large, no quarter will be given nor asked for by 'familiar' players, who will now play for their country's pride.
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The Oval clash will be a battle between many players who have solid 'knowledge' of each other. Having just played the Indian Premier League, India and West Indies are studded with key players who have deep intelligence of each other's strengths and weaknesses. Just a couple of weeks ago, rival captains Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo were Chennai Super Kings teammates, Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle were the backbone of Royal Challengers Bangalore's batting while Rohit Sharma captained Kieron Pollard at Mumbai Indians. Those equations have now changed. (Also read: Bring on India, says Dwayne Bravo)
Having won their opening Champions Trophy group B matches, India and the West Indies are a win away from securing a spot in the tournament's last four. There will be no love when the two teams battle it out on the morrow. In-form West Indian No. 4 batsman Marlon Samuels sounded the warning bells on Sunday saying the Caribbeans will look the Indians in the eye and have the arsenal to rattle Team India in English conditions. (Read: Have the balance to beat India, says Marlon Samuels)
From an overall team perspective and build-up, India look stronger on paper. Their batting looks in awesome form with three back-to-back 300-plus scores in conditions where the ball has done a bit early in the innings. With a slight change in the batting order, Murli Vijay was dropped to accommodate Rohit Sharma as an opener in the first match against the Proteas, the runs came in torrents after an initial period of graft. The lessons learnt from the warm-up games were clear. (Also see: Pics - Gayle-storm hits London)
Application and pitch occupation will be crucial. India's opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Sharma blunted a South Africa pace attack with a match-winning 127-run stand in the tournament's opening game in Cardiff (Scorecard). It is unlikely that India will disturb Cardiff's winning combination that saw Dinesh Karthik promoted to No. 4 and Dhoni up at No. 5 ahead of Suresh Raina.
In spite of their enormous potential, West Indies remain a fickle lot. The fact that they left out Test captain and all-rounder Darren Sammy from the playing XI against Pakistan in the opening game on Friday reflected the team's depth and confidence, but the batting frailties surfaced as the Caribbeans escaped with a two-wicket victory in a low-scoring nail-biter at The Oval on Friday.
West Indies have the experience and the talent to give the Indians a run for their money. The Oval's track has no gremlins and if the top order of Chris Gayle, Johnson Charles, Darren Bravo and Samuels can see off India's new ball bowlers, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, it could turn out to be a high-scoring affair. The first 15 overs have held the keys to success in the Champions Trophy so far.
West Indies have a 2-1 win-loss record against India in Champions Trophy matches. Both Caribbean wins, interestingly, came on sub-continental wickets in 1998 (Dhaka) and 2006 (Ahmedabad), respectively. India beat West Indies by seven wickets in Johannesburg in 2009 with medium-pacer Praveen Kumar bagging 3 for 22. (Top 5 Indian players to watch out for and the top-5 West Indians who can shine)
But history will count for nothing as the team that handles the conditions better will come out on tops. West Indies will surely test the Indian batsmen with both speed and spin and as Samuels said, pacers Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Tino Best can be a handful and nasty while spinner Sunil Narine will always have a trick up his sleeve.
Tuesday's battle will be between teams that have different reputations in world cricket. India, with a muscular batting line-up, are the world champions and currently No. 1 in ICC rankings. West Indies are a team on the ascendancy but with an air of unpredictability that always keeps the opposition on the tenterhooks.