NEW DELHI (AFP): India’s new white-ball skipper Rohit Sharma starts his full-time ODI tenure on Sunday as his team play the West Indies in their 1,000th one-day international, the first side ever to reach the milestone.
The encounter at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad is the first of a three-match series but will be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
India passed 500,000 deaths from the virus on Friday, although infection rates in the current Omicron outbreak have slowed in recent days.
“I was the captain of India in the 500th ODI,” India’s cricket chief Sourav Ganguly told Indian magazine Sportstar — a 2002 game against England in Chester-le-Street.
“It is a big moment for Indian cricket, but unfortunately, the match will be played without a crowd.”
The hosts have been hit by the virus themselves with four players including Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer and Ruturaj Gaikwad being isolated after testing positive.
Mayank Agarwal has been added to the squad and will be a candidate to open the batting alongside Rohit, although vice-captain K.L. Rahul remains a possibility.
The 34-year-old Rohit, who took over the Twenty20 and then ODI captaincy from Virat Kohli, was ruled out of India’s tour of South Africa by a hamstring injury, when the visitors lost the Test series 2-1 and were whitewashed 3-0 in ODIs.
He is leading the one-day side in a year that will see the T20 World Cup in Australia, and is favourite to be named Test captain as well.
Indian broadcasters have been promoting the West Indies series with a song on Rohit’s comeback likely to boost the hosts, and the star batsman acknowledged the compliment.
“Humbled by the lovely rap @StarSportsIndia Looking forward to be back on the field and take inspiration from the fans’ continued support as India takes on West Indies,” Rohit wrote on Twitter.
India have home advantage but will face a tough challenge against the West Indies who are fresh from a 3-2 T20 triumph against England at home.
The once mighty West Indies, two-time ODI World Cup winners, celebrated the series win after their disastrous T20 World Cup defence and a shock 50-overs series loss to Ireland.
Pace bowler Kemar Roach has been recalled to Kieron Pollard’s side and the spotlight will be on pace bowler Jason Holder, who claimed a hat-trick and took four wickets in four balls in the series-clinching T20 win over England.
“For me, this is the closest that I’ve felt a group be in a very, very long time,” Holder was quoted as saying by website ESPNcricinfo.
“Honest to God, the energy I felt from the meetings… most contributions I’ve ever seen in a West Indies dressing room. Even though you might not understand a certain decision, everybody’s still buying in with it.”
But he added: “I don’t think it’s a finished product and we’ve got to strive to be consistent.”
The ODIs will be followed by three T20 matches at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.