November 21, 2002

Dravid leads India to series-levelling win at Jodhpur

There comes a time when every trend is bucked. Stock markets that are crashing take an upswing. Drought-ridden, parched regions are blessed with rain. In keeping with this truism, at Jodhpur, the run glut in this one-day series came to an end as India leveled the series in a low-scoring game. After knocking the visitors over for a paltry 201, the hosts clinched the game by three wickets with as many overs to spare.

When stand-in skipper Rahul Dravid won the toss in the morning, he did not think twice before putting West Indies in to bat. But even he would not have expected to roll the men from the Caribbean over for as low as 201. It was a combination of Dravid's midas touch ­- this win makes it three in three as captain for the Karnataka man -­ and some intelligent bowling that saw India come out on top.

There have been two surprise packages for India in this series -­ Sanjay Bangar and Murali Kartik. While Bangar has blossomed into a hard-hitting batsman in the shorter version of the game, Kartik has shown that he is a left-arm spinner with more than a few tricks in the bag. On the day, the two came good, backed up by the mercurial Ajit Agarkar and India practically strolled to victory.

It all began when Ajit Agarkar got rid of Wavell Hinds with just 34 runs on the board in the tenth over. Hinds, who had crawled along to one from 28 balls, fell in an attempt to break the shackles that only resulted in an easy catch for Dinesh Mongia at deep midwicket. The man who had crashed his way to a 61-ball 80 just days ago, had barely been able to get the ball off the square during his painstaking stay at the batting crease.

Kartik began by trapping Chris Gayle (27) in front of the stumps with a little help from umpire Asoka de Silva. The Railways left-arm spinner grew in confidence after claiming that scalp.

He stepped in smartly and made life miserable for batsmen who were new to the wicket. Tossing the ball up well while cutting down on his pace, Kartik got the ball to grip the surface and turn and jump. He was helped by the fact that although by no means a difficult wicket to bat on, this Barkatullah Khan stadium strip was the first one where the ball did not come onto the bat readily to be thumped.

After giving the ball an exaggerated tweak to lull the batsmen into thinking there were demons in the wicket, Kartik sent down two perfect arm balls that clean bowled both Marlon Samuels (3) and Ramnaresh Sarwan (14) and reduced the West Indies to 74/4 in the 25th over.

The Guyanese pair of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper were left to pick up the pieces and to some extent they staged a recovery. Chanderpaul, in his no-nonsense manner picked the ones and twos, putting away the odd loose delivery. Hooper was his classy elegant self, despite being troubled by a knee injury. At the end of the day, however, both fell trying to force the pace of the game - Chanderpaul for 58 and Hooper for 38.

None of the other West Indian batsmen did enough to be of significant help to their team's cause. Oh yes, Ricardo Powell swatted the bowling around for his customary run-a-ball 29 but that was a case of too little too late.

When Ridley Jacobs was run out, and the players walked off the field with West Indies being all out for 201 in 46.3 overs, Dravid was a happy man. His bowlers had done the job effectively. Kartik had 3/36, Agarkar 3/24 and Bangar a tidy 2/39.

At this stage, the game was already safely in India's pocket, barring the odd minor miracle that strikes the game. None struck on the day.

The Indians got off to a bad start, in their response, losing both openers with just 26 runs on the board. Dinesh Mongia (5), unimpressive in his comeback, edged Vasbert Drakes to the keeper while Virender Sehwag obliged the same bowler by patting a half-volley down Samuels' throat at short cover. There was more trouble soon after as VVS Laxman fell for just seven as India were reduced to 38/3.

At this time Hooper would certainly have wished that he had another 50 runs on the board. Maybe, just maybe, he would have been able to apply some pressure on the batsmen if that was the case.

As it turned out, Dravid and Yuvraj Singh strung together a partnership that all but settled the issue. While Dravid pressed on with his good form, Yuvraj took the opportunity to spend some quality time out in the middle. There was enough in the West Indian bowling -­ especially from Gayle -­ to score off, and the two made good.

Off the back foot both players were in control, punching with panache to send the ball scurrying into the gaps and to the fence. Deft dabs and delicate cuts were the order of the day rather than big hits. In a 99-run stand for the fourth wicket, the pair took India within striking distance of the West Indian total. Yuvraj (54) perished flicking a full delivery from Corey Collymore to Powell at square leg. Dravid (58) followed his companion back to the pavilion soon after, finding midwicket as he tried to clear the infield.

A mini-collapse soon after ensured that no one left the stadium in haste but did nothing to alter the course of the game. Reetinder Sodhi mindlessly slogged the third ball he faced straight up in the air while Mohammad Kaif (15) fell playing a lazy stroke.

A cool Bangar, however, was still out in the middle. Carving three boundaries in a 38-ball 32, Bangar stroked the winning runs with more than three overs to spare.

The series is leveled, the honours even. The one-day circus now moves to Vijayawada where the teams come head-to-head to determine the winner of this seven-match series. Back to square one, some would say. The glory of the one-day game, others would retort. Either way, as the cliché goes, there's everything to play for in the final game.