Fast bowler Navdeep Saini starred on his senior international debut as India defeated the West Indies by four wickets in a low-scoring opening fixture of a three-match T20 series at the Central Broward Stadium in Florida on Saturday.
On a pitch where all batsmen struggled to play their shots, the West Indies were restricted to 95 for nine batting first. India's line-up found the conditions equally challenging but the depth of their batting saw them through to 98 for six with 16 deliveries to spare.
Having already enjoyed success with the Indian 'A' team currently on tour of the Caribbean, Saini made an immediate impact wearing his country's colours at the highest level in claiming three for 17 off his four overs, including top-scorer Kieron Pollard who fell in the final over of the innings for 49.
He achieved the rarity of a maiden in that final over but it was his earlier double-strike which gave the 26-year-old fast bowler the sort of a dream start he would have wished for after captain Virat Kohli chose to bowl first on winning the toss.
Opening bowlers Washington Sundar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had already set the West Indies on the back foot by removing openers John Campbell and Evin Lewis, and Saini added to the Caribbean side's woes by dismissing attacking left-handers Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer off successive deliveries. Pooran's score of 20 was the only other double-figure innings apart from Pollard in what was a generally indisciplined effort from the West Indies.
Kumar supported Saini's effort with two wickets and indeed all India's bowlers played key roles in depriving the West Indies big-hitters of opportunities to clear the boundary ropes.
Playing his first match for India since leaving the World Cup in England six weeks ago with a fractured thumb, Shikhar Dhawan fell cheaply to Sheldon Cottrell and when Sunil Narine removed topscorer Rohit Sharma (24) and Rishabh Pant with successive deliveries, the West Indies were very much in contention to successfully defend their modest score.
However captain Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey contributed 19 runs each – significant in the context of the low-scoring match – and India rallied from 32 for three to reach the target in the 18th over, Washington Sundar hoisting Keemo Paul for six to seal the victory.
Paul, Narine and Cottrell took two wickets each but their efforts weren't enough in the face of the small total they were attempting to defend.
India will be seeking to clinch the series with victory in the second match at the same venue on Sunday before the teams head to Guyana for the final match on Tuesday. They will then shift formats to three One-Day Internationals (one in Guyana and two in Trinidad) and round off the tour with Test matches in Antigua and Jamaica.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Randy Brooks