India's disappointment in World Cup 2019 and subsequent conjectures and debates about the selection of the coaching staff and then the indications of a rift between skipper Virat Kohli and vice-captain Rohit Sharma add to the drama of the team returning to on-field action when they take on the West Indies in the first of three T20 Internationals at Lauderhill in Florida, USA, on Saturday. Not only the various dramas, India will also be challenged by a good West Indies T20I outfit. Also, this contest will be an acid test for Virat Kohli, whose captaincy has also been a little bit of a teaser.
As Kohli pointed out before leaving for the Caribbean tour, the main objective of the T20s and the subsequent ODI series against the West Indies is to try out the fringe players who are on selectors' mind.
Kohli was expected to be rested for the limited-overs leg of the tour but a full strength squad has been picked barring the absence of star pacer Jasprit Bumrah who will join the side ahead of the Test series beginning August 22. All-rounder Hardik Pandya has been rested for the entire tour.
It will be a crucial couple of weeks for Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey, who are back in the mix after being sidelined from India's 50-over World Cup plans. Pandey last played for India in November 2019 and Iyer in February 2018.
With India looking to solidify their brittle middle-order in ODIs, both batsmen have a good opportunity to make their case in the coming six games.
Both Pandey and Iyer, who were part of the recently concluded A series in the Caribbean, come into the senior team with runs under their belt. Spin all-rounder Washington Sundar and pacers Khaleel Ahmed and Deepak Chahar are also back in the T20 squad while speedster Navdeep Saini and Deepak's brother Rahul are in line to make their India debut.
With Rohit Sharma and a fit-again Shikhar Dhawan set to open, the number four spot seems likely to be occupied by KL Rahul, who has fond memories of the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium, having scored an unbeaten 110 in his last innings here almost three years ago.
Rohit was top-scorer in the World Cup, with a record five hundreds, and would be keen to carry that form amid the off-field drama of a speculated rift with Kohli, who has categorically denied any differences with his deputy.
From this tour onwards, Rishabh Pant will have more responsibility on his shoulders with the selectors backing him as the number one wicketkeeper in all formats amid little clarity over the future of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
India will be expected to beat the West Indies though they are most dangerous in the shortest format. The explosive Kieron Pollard and spinner Sunil Narine are back in the side though Chris Gayle will only be seen in the ODIs.
Injury-prone Andre Russell too has been named in the T20 squad.
The regional side will be aiming to get over the disappointment of World Cup with a good result against India. Coach Floyd Reifer expects the series to be high on entertainment.
"The team is young, and we like to mix the experienced players with the youth. We have a very good blend. We are looking forward to the matches here in Florida. It should be a very exciting weekend, we lots of entertainment for the fans," Reifer said ahead of the series.
West Indies: Carlos Brathwaite (capt), John Campbell, Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicolas Pooran (wk), Kieron Pollard, Rovman Powell, Keemo Paul, Sunil Narine, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas, Anthony Bramble, Andre Russell, Khary Pierre.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini.
Match starts 8 PM IST.
(With PTI inputs)