Dravid century seals sensational win for India at Ahmedabad
Some say this Indian team can tread water. Some suggest that no total is safe against this Indian batting line-up. But even if one is the practical sort that does not indulge in exaggeration of any kind, one has to be staggered by the manner in which this side has repeatedly risen from the dead to pull off sensational victories in the past year. With a blazing run-chase that saw the hosts score 325 for five in 47.4 overs, India have levelled this seven-match one-day series at two-all.
There were few who believed that India had it in them to chase down such a daunting total, the law of averages precluding it after the team achieved similar feats in just the recent past. The odds grew longer with the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, and and more so with Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly back in the hut and just 45 runs on the board. But the man they dub the Wall, Rahul Dravid, fighting off exhaustion and skepticism, believed that India could go the whole way. Ably supported by a motley crew of characters, Dravid guided India home with plenty of deliveries to spare.
VVS Laxman, uncomfortable at the crease, flirting with deliveries outside the off and clearly disconcerted by the extra bounce, somehow hung on to accumulate a vital 66 (74 balls, eight fours). Sharing in a partnership of 103 for the third wicket with Dravid, Laxman provided much of the meat in the middle overs. Only a terrible mix-up brought about Laxman's dismissal via a run-out, with India still desperately behind the required run-rate.
Then came the two current golden boys of Indian cricket - Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif. On the day, however, neither could do what he would have dreamed of. Yuvraj Singh made a run-a-ball 30 before knocking Carl Hooper a catch off Merv Dillon, and Kaif for his part hardly got going, reaching just eight before he mistimed a pull to be caught at midwicket. India were 231 for four in 37.3 overs.
With 94 runs still needed from 75 balls, India had their backs to the wall. Out from his cocoon of dour resistance - of leaving the ball alone outside the off and prodding defensively otherwise - burst Bangar. Clattering the ball to all parts of the ground in an assault that the West Indies could never have anticipated, Bangar smashed his way to 57 off just 41 balls with five boundaries and two sixes. Unbeaten and right on top of his game, Bangar would, after some fielding lapses earlier in the day, have heaved a sigh of relief as he scampered the winning runs.
None of this, though, would have been possible without the composure of Rahul Dravid. Fighting fatigue, especially after having kept wickets for the first half of the match, Dravid remained unbeaten on 109 (124 balls, eight fours) and was the beacon of light that showed India the way to victory. Amazingly, even this effort was not enough to earn Dravid the Man of the Match award. That honour went to Chris Gayle.
Earlier in the day, Gayle had plundered the Indian bowling like there was no tomorrow. Beginning a brutal assault on the bowling almost as soon as he walked out to bat, the powerful left-hander had few stutters in bringing up three figures. Having reached his second century of the tournament, and the third of his career, Gayle went on to blunt the Indian bowling attack, reaching 140 (127 balls, 12 fours, five sixes) before a tired shot went down Murali Kartik's throat at long off.
The international century, meanwhile, continued to elude Ramnaresh Sarwan. The stylish middle-order batsman remained unbeaten on 99 as the West Indies posted a mammoth 324 for four from 50 overs.
While Sarwan deserves all the praise for his consistency and all the commiserations for remaining high and dry on 99 (104 balls, eight fours), nothing will match up to the ultimate disappointment of scoring over 300 runs and still ending up on the losing side. Ask Nasser Hussain's England. Ask Rashid Latif's Pakistan. Ask Carl Hooper's West Indies. But for a better story still, ask Sourav Chandidas Ganguly. He can tell you what a pleasure it has been.