Gayle leads West Indies to exciting triumph
The day began in a moment of solemn silence and ended in a dramatic eruption of joy at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad. With their thumping seven-wicket win, the West Indies leveled the series 1-1 with one game to go.
The day started in silence observed to mark the death of two cricketers - former Indian spin legend Subhash Gupte and Hansie Cronje. Matchfixing and its attendant tarnishing aside, the death of a cricketer at the young age of 32 leaves a sadness that is sobering. The cricket world was in shock and as is so often the case, the game threw up a performance that did a bit to soothe the wounds of fans worldwide.
Christopher Henry Gayle creamed 84 of the most sublime runs as West Indies easily overhauled a meagre Indian score of 123 in a rain-shortened 25-over-a-side slog.
But it was no slog from Gayle as a packed house at Trinidad were well repaid for their three-hour wait in the rain.
Gayle has on earlier occasions shown patches of sublime touch. In this match his raw, brutal power coupled with a fluid, fluent arc of the bat sent the Indian bowlers scurrying for cover. Suffering most at the hands of Gayle was the success story from the previous one-dayer - Tinu Yohannan. Getting clattered to every part of the park in an over that cost 25 runs, Yohannan quietly retired to the outfield.
Gayle did not slow down. The fact that fielding restrictions did not apply after the seventh over did nothing to deter him. After all, if you're hitting the ball several rows back into the stands, it hardly matters where the fielders are standing. Three sixes were struck in an innings of 84, each one bigger than the previous, as the on-side fence bore the brunt of his savage attack. The excitement is always greatest when the ball goes the full distance, but the strokes that went along the turf to the fence were no less sweet.
Overpitched deliveries seem to be the favourite cuisine of this man who has an insatiable appetite for big strokes. Consecutive cover drives off Yohannan left fielders with no chance whatsoever. There was a sigh of relief for the Indians when Gayle's storm came to an end on 84. A top-edged pull landed safely in the hands of Ganguly at square leg. West Indies needed just seven to win though, at that stage.
Just minutes before Gayle was dismissed, his opening partner, Wavell Hinds played a loose shot to be clean bowled for a well-made 30.
With clouds gathering in the hills surrounding the ground, the Indians would have had hopes that they could delay things as much as possible. But even the dismissal of Ramnaresh Sarwan, who dragged a Yohannan delivery back onto his stumps, did nothing but change the eventual margin of victory. The popular pair of Carl Hooper and Brian Lara finished things off soon after.
While it's the batting that is usually remembered in a great victory, it is often the bowling that makes such a triumph possible. Today was no exception. The West Indies bowlers rocked the Indian top-order with a series of telling blows. All India managed was 123 all out in 25 overs.
The first man to go was Virender Sehwag, in just the third ball of the match. Attempting to clear the infield on the leg side, Sehwag mis-hit Merv Dillon to Lara at mid on. India were 1/1 and Sehwag was gone for a duck.
Dinesh Mongia (13) showed hints of defiance but did not last long enough to make a difference.
Then came a slew of wickets. VVS Laxman (2) was run out by a sharp throw from Hooper and Yuvraj Singh (1) nicked Pedro Collins through to the 'keeper. India were in deep trouble at 56/4.
A stroke-filled Ganguly innings (39, 44 balls, 5 fours, 1 six) then came to an end. With the fine leg up in the circle, the Indian skipper moved across his stumps and tried to glance the ball fine. Rapped on the pads and adjudged lbw to Colleymore, Ganguly could consider himself a touch unlucky. The ball appeared to be missing the off stump.
Rahul Dravid did his best to take India towards respectability, making 26, the second highest score of the Indian innings. He too was undone by a clever piece of bowling, bowled by Hooper while attempting to play a cut shot.
Mohammad Kaif made 12 but he too could not get going. Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan and company did little to contribute. However, it's hardly fair to expect them to make a difference when three of the top five managed just three runs between them.
With the last ball of the Indian innings, the West Indies sealed a superb performance out in the field. Collins had Harbhajan Singh (6) caught behind and India were all out for 123.
It's never easy to bowl in rain-shortened matches, but the West Indies did it to perfection. Colleymore, with 3/14 from his five overs, was outstanding. Hooper's 2/19 from five overs helped keep the pressure up and made life very difficult for the Indians.