FORT LAUDERDALE: West Indies face India in two Twenty20 internationals in Florida at the weekend in a litmus test for both cricket’s future in the US and Carlos Brathwaite’s credentials as Caribbean skipper.
After India cruised to victory in the Test series and in the aftermath of the Caribbean squad’s latest round of blood-letting, the sides head for the sport’s newest outpost, the Central Broward Regional Park, the only purpose-built cricket stadium in the US.
Six matches in the recent franchise-based Caribbean Premier League were played at the $10 million arena while the first full international matches, two Twenty20 games between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, were staged there in 2010.
Saturday and Sunday’s back-to-back fixtures come at a crucial time for the West Indies. They may be the reigning world champions in the format having triumphed in India earlier this year, but that didn’t save Darren Sammy’s job as skipper.
He was sacked in what he claimed was a “30-second phone call” and replaced by Brathwaite who 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 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.”
His first job will be to introduce stability into the engaging but often frustrating nature of West Indies’ short-form cricket – before they won their second World T20 in four years, they lost to Afghanistan in the qualifying round.
Despite his heroics in Mumbai, 28-year-old Brathwaite is a lightweight when it comes to international experience, having played just three Tests, 14 ODIs and eight Twenty 20s.
In contrast, the team’s superstar Chris Gayle has 103 Tests, 269 ODIs and 50 T20s to his name as well as a host of batting records.
India, meanwhile, have no worries over their confidence levels heading into the weekend. They have enjoyed a solid run in T20 series in recent times, winning in Australia, Sri Lanka and claiming the Asia Cup before recovering to beat Zimbabwe 2-1 in June.
Twelve of the 14-man Test squad will be in Florida with skipper Virat Kohli handing over leadership duties to Mahendra Singh 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.
“India is a like the rock star of cricket,” Rizwan Mohammad told the Sun Sentinel newspaper whose reporter went to great lengths to demystify the sport for his American readership.
“Instead of four bases there are two wickets bracketing a rectangular 22-yard-long dirt pitch at the centre of an oval ground,” wrote the paper’s correspondent.
“The 11 fielders have various ways of getting the batter out, including striking the wicket behind the batsman with a bowled ball or catching a batted ball on the fly.”