Samuels powers West Indies to an emphatic win
Sometimes, it only takes one passage of play to widen the gap between defeat and victory so far that even the bravest men cannot make the traverse. An innings that was as beautiful as it was brutal from Marlon Samuels coupled with a period of inept bowling from India on a flat wicket saw to it that the West Indies, with 315/6 from 50 overs, had virtually batted the hosts out of the game.
In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, the pressure to score quickly mounted irreversibly and the Indians collapsed to a 135-run loss, which ensured that the men from the Caribbean, with a 4-3 scoreline, have the TVS Cup to add to their silverware cupboard.
Two trends were reversed at the Indira Gandhi stadium in Vijayawada. Firstly, Rahul Dravid's victorious run as captain was cut short. Secondly, the team batting second actually went on to lose a game for the first time in this seven-match one-day series.
It all began with the toss, and Michael Holding can rest assured that there was no controversy this time - Dravid won, and put West Indies in to bat. Chris Gayle, Man of the Series for scoring 455 runs including three centuries, fell early, with the score on just eight. The dependable Shivnarine Chanderpaul also joined his friend back in the pavilion after eight more runs were added and the Indians were cock-a-hoop at having the visitors reeling at 16/2.
With that, however, the joy ended. For the Indians that is.
Wavell Hinds and Ramnaresh Sarwan put together the kind of partnership that big scores are built on. With strong drives from Hinds and wily strokes from Sarwan, a strong foundation was built. The pair added 116 runs for the third wicket before Hinds (58) was bowled by Virender Sehwag. The Indians celebrated raucously on breaking the partnership.
If they knew what they had coming, perhaps they would not have celebrated so much.
Rated highly back home in the Caribbean, Samuels won himself a host of admirers in India with an innings that brought the word class to everyone's lips. The purity of technique in his clean, straight hits would sate the most demanding classicist's yearnings. The cheeky innovation that sent lusty hits soaring over the on side with a deft last-minute change of direction set the already racing pulses shooting through the roof.
It proved yet again that there's no need for music between overs, skimpily-clad cheerleaders egging players on, or bright lights and razzmatazz. All that is needed is for one young cricketer to stamp his authority on the game.
In a 75-ball assault that saw eleven boundaries scorch the turf and as many as five hits sail directly into the stands, Samuels stole the game from the Indians. Bowlers who began well, lost rhythm and began to spray the ball about the place. Fielders who were fleet-footed, fumbled, fidgeted and forgot the basics. There was nothing the Indian captain could do to check Samuels' proud march forward.
Meanwhile, Sarwan, in a manner that is sure to irritate his fans no end, once again came within striking distance of a century, reaching 83 before being trapped lbw by Ajit Agarkar.
No such problem for Samuels. Without as much as slowing down in the nineties, Samuels reached his century and acknowledged the cheers of a West Indian dressing room that included the legendary Sir Vivian Richards. To see the big man himself standing and clapping would have warmed Samuels' heart, and rightly so, for it was an innings that even Richards would have been proud of. Stumping several followers, Samuels took a dirty, tattered red rag and held it aloft, along with his helmet.
The significance of his gesture became apparent only when he explained that it was given to him by Steve Waugh, who had snipped off a shred of the red hand-kerchief that he so religiously carries with him out to the middle. The elder Waugh rated Samuels highly the first time he saw him bat.
Is there anyone out there who still needs convincing of Samuels' ability?
Not Carl Hooper (13) or Ricardo Powell (30) certainly, both of whom merely chimed in chorus from the sidelines as Samuels' strident notes reverberated around the packed stadium. With the visitors ending on 315/6 then, the question on everyone's lips was whether India could pull off a successful chase of such a mammoth target for the third time this year?
Not by a long way, was the answer on the day. Jermaine Lawson, catapulted into the playing eleven for this match only because Pedro Collins injured his back in the lead up to the game, tore through the Indian top order. Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, VVS Laxman and Dravid all fell to the zippy pacer before they could make even 25 runs and India were slipping towards defeat at 67/4.
What miracles optimistic Indian fans expected of Mohammad Kaif and Sanjay Bangar, we will never know. What we did find out, however, was that the pair could add a mere 12 runs to the Indian cause between them. The fast growing pack of `all-rounders' in this Indian team, Ajit Agarkar and Murali Kartik contributed exactly half what the afore-mentioned pair could and you had a recipe for disaster.
Even the boyish clean hitting of Yuvraj Singh (68) could do little to lift the spirits of the Indians as they slumped to 180 all out. They simply had to face the fact that they were out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded on the day.
Oh and yes, not just on the day, on three other days in this series as well.