The last time India and West Indies squared off in an ODI on English soil was a seismic moment, one that signalled the shift of cricket power towards the sub-continent. On June 25, 1983, underdogs India stunned the Calypso Kings and won their maiden World Cup.
As the teams gear up for Tuesday’s match, that historic moment is just that. History!
When it comes to the Kennington Oval, though, history is overbearing. This is the ground that hosted the first-ever Test on English soil. This is where the Ashes were burnt.
The first FA Cup final was staged here, it has hosted clowns and comedians, it has hosted rockstars, most famously The Who, their maverick drummer Keith Moon, Moon the Loon to the uninitiated, who used a cricket bat as an improvised drum stick in that concert.
To the left of the Vauxhall Stand is the iconic Oval gasometer, a huge, round storage tank that dominates the skyline around the ground. It can also be seen looming large in the background at photos on the ground’s concourse celebrating the history of the club that calls the stadium home, Surrey CCC.
In photos dating back to the 1880s the gasometer is visible, imposing in the days when stands were little more than manicured lawns.
All around the venue are traditional, red-bricked British tenements, some have been converted into schools, but many retain the same structure as they would have in Dickensian times.
The ground has also been the setting for one of Indian cricket’s greatest moments.
In 1971 B Chandrasekhar’s magical 6/38 spell sealed India’s first Test and series win in the Old Blighty. In 1979 Sunil Gavaskar hit a fourth innings 221, chasing 438, to bring India agonizingly close. In 2001, Rahul Dravid’s 217 helped India draw a series in England.
In such a backdrop, two teams familiar with each other face off. They say familiarity breeds confidence, if that is indeed the case, neither team will be lacking.
The skippers, MS Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo are Indian T20 league teammates. So are Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard and Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle.
West Indies coach Ottis Gibson is banking on this familiarity to chart out specific plans.
“We watch so much footage of each other, but we also have a lot of our players mixing with the Indian players, our players, Dwayne (Bravo), Chris (Gayle), (Kieron) Pollard especially, Sunil Narine have been starring in the T20 league, so hopefully they've got a lot of information to share when we get back this evening.”
Another key factor will be the pitch, the only one of the three venues to favour swing bowling, which has a greenish tinge.
Add to it the West Indies pacers — Kemar Roach looked especially menacing against Pakistan — and it could well be a test of character for India.