Maybe that is why the Eden Gardens, which hosts the first of the three India-West Indies games, hasn’t held a T20 International since Carlos Brathwaite, now leading the Caribbeans in the shortest format, smote Ben Stokes for four successive sixes and made them World T20 champions in 2016.
Between then and now, Eden has hosted two Tests and two one-day internationals. In 11 years since a long-haired MS Dhoni led India to a T20 World Cup triumph, Eden Gardens has held only seven T20 internationals, five of which came in the last World T20. That sort of flies in the face of the popularity of T20 but then the Indian Premier League is a different beast.
Dhoni isn’t here but Rohit Sharma did get asked about missing India’s most capped T20 International, one who has featured in 93 of the 104 matches played by the national team. “His experience will obviously be missed. (But) It gives an opportunity to the other guys to express themselves. All these guys have done well for their respective teams, be it for their state or in the IPL. We cannot go to the World Cup with limited resources…. This gives you a great platform to try and test all these guys. Dhoni has been such a massive player for us over the years. His experience in the middle will be missed but again Rishabh (Pant) and Dinesh (Karthik) have a great opportunity to show what they are capable of,” said Rohit.
It wasn’t the only time the World Cup figured in the skipper’s interaction on Saturday. When Rohit spoke of the need to test the bench, he mentioned it. “The players we are talking of are possible replacements.... we have to see what they are capable of…. Come the World Cup, it is not just the 15 players we have got to see. There are a lot of new faces in the team… Krunal (Pandya) was part of the team but didn’t play any games. These are the few names who have come in and we have got to see what they have in their armoury for us to make the best possible squad in the World Cup,” he said.
All-rounder Pandya is likely to debut on Sunday given that India omitted Umesh Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem, Washington Sundar and Shreyas Iyer from their 12 announced in the evening. There will be attention on some other players too. Such as Rishabh Pant, a superstar in the making according to Brathwaite, who will look to reproduce the IPL form that fetched him 684 runs including a century at a strike rate of 173.60. The series is also a chance for KL Rahul and Manish Pandey to show that the top and middle-order don’t lack muscle. Rahul hit an unbeaten 54-ball 101 in Manchester when the football World Cup held England in its thrall but barring a 70 against Ireland that remains his only big score. In 10 games this year, Pandey has one major knock, a 79 not out in Centurion.
It is also an opportunity for Shikhar Dhawan to work on his iffy form. After 40 games, Dhawan is still 23 short of 1000 runs in T20 Internationals. It almost behoves an opener to have an average more than 26.40 and though Dhawan got his highest in international 40-over cricket this year --- a 49-ball 90 in Sri Lanka --- 55 against Bangladesh, 47 against South Africa and 74 against Ireland, his scores in England were 4, 10 and 5. The head-to-head record is 6-2 in West Indies’ favour --- we hope to add three more, said Brathwaite --- so both skill and temperament of these players will be tested.