India will be wary of an in-form Stafanie Taylor, who seems to be waging a lone batter for West Indies. © Getty Images

The last time a Harmanpreet Kaur-led Indian team reached the shores of the Caribbean, there was an air of uncertainty around them. A group of youngsters led by an explosive captain, under the guidance of a new (interim) coach entered a world tournament with much to prove. What resulted was a delightful campaign in which India displayed a brand of cricket that most fans had only dreamt of.

Skipper Kaur led the way with a blazing hundred in the very first game as India went through the league stage unbeaten, even thrashing Australia on their way to the semi-final. Although that was where the dream ended, India, looked to have finally caught up with the more dominant T20I teams. They were fearless, aggressive and really seemed to believe in themselves.

Since then, however, India’s performances in the shortest format have somewhat dropped off. From January 2019, they have won only three of the 10 matches they have played. During this period, they have largely struggled with the bat— most notably in the (lower) middle order. More worryingly, though, the aggression that defined that 2018 T20 World Cup campaign, appears to have almost disappeared.

While the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Kaur have blazed away at the top, India have failed to identify personnel to carry that momentum in the middle. Their over-reliance on the trio has often caused their downfall— particularly during their tour of New Zealand and the following home series against England.

Although India did manage to make a good account of themselves in their home series against South Africa— beating the visitors 3-1— that was thanks largely to some exceptional bowling, their batting continued to struggle.

Shafali Verma, the 15-year-old opener, was unable to live up to the hype surrounding her selection, but she certainly did show glimpses of her ability— enough for those around to nail her down as a long-term prospect.

At the other end of the spectrum is Veda Krishnamurthy. The 27-year-old has blown hot and cold for the last couple of years, struggling to fulfill her potential. On paper, she seems the perfect candidate to be India’s finisher in the lower-middle order— she has the experience to boot— but for some reason, has been unable to reach her potential. Her performances in this series could be make or break— for both her and the team.

So it seems, once again, as they embark on their T20I-leg of this tour, India arrive in a(nother) Caribbean island with a few question marks. They may be favourites going in to the series— against a depleted West Indies side— but they will hope to fill a few gaping holes across the course of the five-match series.

The hosts, on the other hand— after faltering in the ODIs— are expected to be more competitive in the shortest format. The return of Hayley Matthews and Shakera Selman has certainly strengthened their unit significantly. Alongside Stafanie Taylor, Afy Fletcher and Anisa Mohammed, they will be expected to lead West Indies’ charge. Much like India, they will want to make a good account of themselves and build some momentum ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia next year.

Amidst all this unpredictability the two teams will clash in the first T20I at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in St.Lucia on Saturday (November 9). The last time they played a T20I bilateral series against West Indies, India were whitewashed at home — Taylor was in incredible touch, clobbering 181 runs at an average of 90.50. While she appears to have hit a similar stride now, India know the West Indies skipper is almost fighting a lone battle.

If Kaur and co. win the series, not only will they secure a historic victory, but could also finalise their T20I template— something they seem to have lost in the West Indies last year.

Squads

West Indies: Stafanie Taylor (c), Anisa Mohammed (vc), Aaliyah Alleyne, Afy Fletcher, Shakera Selman, Hayley Matthews, Chedean Nation, Chinelle Henry, Stacy-Ann King, Kyshona Knight, Natasha McLean, Shabika Gajnabi, Shermaine Campbelle, Sheneta Grimmond.

India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Harleen Deol, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Veda Krishnamurthy, Anuja Patil, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Mansi Joshi, Arundhati Reddy.

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