Cricket will seek to reach out to the untapped American market when the sport’s most followed practitioners, India, lock horns with the West Indies in their maiden international game in the US here on Saturday.
The two Twenty20 Internationals over the weekend will be the first instance of India being involved in a competitive match in the USA.
Days after India cruised to victory in the four-match Test series for their third successive triumph on the Caribbean soil, the team’s seasoned campaigner Mahendra Singh Dhoni will return to lead the side in the two limited overs games at the Central Broward Regional Park, the only purpose-built cricket stadium in the US.
It is the only ICC certified ODI standard stadium facility in the USA and hosted six Caribbean Premier League matches last month.
The 14-member Indian team will see the return of as many as 11 regular players who were rested from the tour to Zimbabwe in May earlier this year.
Dhoni, who retired from the longest format of the game in December 2014, is scheduled to play just seven more matches in 2016 - two T20Is against the West Indies in USA and 5 ODIs against New Zealand in India.
Dhoni’s last assignment was against Zimbabwe where he led a young Indian team, sans the stars, to victory in both the ODIs and T20I series in Harare in June.
The two-match series is going to be the first of what will develop into an annual event in the USA as part of efforts to reach out to new markets and audiences.
Even though India won the Test series 2-0, players from the Test squad are coming with hardly any recent match practice because of the rain-affected fourth Test in Port-of-Spain where the last four days didn’t see any play.
Indian coach Anil Kumble was, however, still optimistic about a good performance in what will be his first assignment with Dhoni.
“This is the first time that I’ll be working with MS, obviously we have played together over a long period of time and we had a chat on Thursday and on Friday as well,” Kumble said.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him and the new set of boys like (Jasprit) Bumrah who’s joined as well.
I’ve worked with him in the IPL so it’s nice to be a part of the India dressing room again,” he added.
As far as the West Indies team is concerned, the focus will be on Carlos Brathwaite, who was elevated to captaincy in place of Darren Sammy.
They may be the reigning world champions in the format, having triumphed in India earlier this year, but that didn’t save Sammy’s job as skipper.
Brathwaite, on the other hand, etched his name into West Indies cricket folklore by smashing four sixes in the final over against England to win this year’s World T20 final for his team in Mumbai.
“I think a team like this will be pretty easy to lead, from the point of view that the dressing room is a fun place to be,” said Brathwaite.
“I don’t think it’s a case where I have to negotiate too many egos.” But despite his heroics in Mumbai, the 28-year-old Brathwaite is yet to become a force to reckon with when it comes to international experience, having played just three Tests, 14 ODIs and eight Twenty 20s. India have no issues on the confidence front heading into the weekend. They have enjoyed a solid run in the T20 series in recent times, winning in Australia, Sri Lanka and claiming the Asia Cup before recovering to beat Zimbabwe 2-1.
Twelve of the 14-man Test squad will be in Florida with Test skipper Virat Kohli handing over the leadership duties to Dhoni. They will have revenge on their minds having lost to the West Indies in the semi-finals of this year’s World Twenty20. A crowd of 15,000 is expected in Florida over each of the two days including vast numbers of expatriates.
Teams : India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt.), Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Stuart Binny, Umesh Yadav, Virat Kohli
West Indies: Carlos Brathwaite (capt), Andre Fletcher, Andre Russell, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Evin Lewis, Jason Holder, Johnson Charles, Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons, Marlon Samuels, Samuel Badree, Sunil Narine.