LAUDERHILL: India head into their all-format tour of the West Indies this weekend with more on their mind than simply winning a couple of T20s.
For Virat Kohli's side and indeed for the West Indies it is a chance to pick up the pieces after a disappointing one-day international (ODI) World Cup in England and put behind them the recent talk of splits in the camp.
Kohli's confidant Ravi Shastri is on borrowed time before the appointment of a new coach, former captain MS Dhoni has skipped the tour to do military service while Kohli this week has had to dismiss talk of a rift with prolific opening batsman Rohit Sharma.
"It baffles you as a leader, as a coach, and as a team when lies are being floated around," Kohli told reporters this week.
"And they are made to look believable. We have had no issues."
India, unexpectedly beaten by New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final last month, are likely to find plenty of support during the first two T20s on Saturday and Sunday with expatriate Indians expected to outnumber West Indian fans at the delightful Central Broward Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida, which is often known as the home of cricket in the USA.
The stadium hosted its first internationals back in 2010 when New Zealand played Sri Lanka in two T20s.
West Indies and India played a T20 there three years ago and produced real fireworks, with KL Rahul smashing a century off 46 balls and Evin Lewis responding for the West Indies with a ton off 49 balls. The Indians won by just one run.
Rahul will be hoping to replicate that form in Lauderhill and in the third T20 and ODI series in Guyana and Trinidad but the Indians will miss the experience of Dhoni as well as all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who has been rested, and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who will join the squad for the tour-ending Test matches.
The Tests in Antigua and Jamaica will have a special significance as they will mark the first round of matches for each side in the new World Test Championship.
Unlike the visitors, the West Indies went into the World Cup as one of the outsiders and despite a resounding victory over Pakistan to open their campaign, they slid down to ninth in the final standings amid much disaffection and rancour among their diehard supporters over the repeated manner in which they surrendered potential winning positions.
Their meeting with India at Old Trafford ended in a crushing 125-run defeat.
Now, with an eye on building towards the defence of their World T20 title in Australia in 15 months' time, they have welcomed back experienced franchise globetrotters in all-rounder Kieron Pollard and spinner Sunil Narine. Carlos Brathwaite is back as captain.
There is no Chris Gayle in Florida as he is hard at work in the Global T20 event in Canada. But the big-hitting opener has been selected for the ODI leg of the tour, perhaps as a final farewell in front of home fans. Already 39, he is hardly likely to feature in the next World Cup in India in 2023.
India will start favourites across all three formats although the West Indies are expected to be at their most competitive and explosive in the T20s.
T20 Teams (probable):
West Indies - Carlos Brathwaite (captain), Evin Lewis, John Campbell, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Kieron Pollard, Keemo Paul, Rovman Powell, Sunil Narine, Khary Pierre, Oshane Thomas.
India - Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, K. L. Rahul, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Manish Pandey, Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Khaleel Ahmed, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar.