Indians open their tour in fine style
Led by a solid batting performance, the Indians began their tour of the West Indies with an emphatic victory, overwhelming the Jamaica XI by 116 runs at Montego Bay. Handy contributions from Suresh Raina, Mohammad Kaif and Mahendra Singh Dhoni set up a daunting total, one which the Jamaicans never threatened to overhaul.
Close to 4000 spectators filled the picturesque Jarrett Park and got a chance to witness some sparkling strokeplay during the Indian innings. Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid set the ball rolling with a rollicking 61-run stand, in just 12 overs, before the Uttar Pradesh duo of Raina and Kaif built a solid platform. The two came together when the Indians needed to rebuild - having lost their way a bit owing largely to Andrew Richardson, the talented young medium-pacer - but their hustling methods paid off.
Kaif had an anxious moment to begin with, surviving an appeal for lbw, but struck the ball cleanly for the most part. A crisply-driven straight drive helped him find his touch and he was soon scampering between the wickets and coming into his own. It was crucial that he found some form and despite falling one short of 50, he might have done enough to make the cut for the first game at Sabina Park.
Raina's upbeat strokeplay provided the ideal foil and the two took the score past the 200-mark. He was lucky on 2, when Damion Ebanks, fielding at point, put down a straight-forward chance and made the Jamaicans pay with a controlled innings. Once the fast bowlers were taken off, he had a chance to toy with the innocuous legspin of Donovan Sinclair, crashing a number of full tosses to the extra-cover region. Over the last few months Raina, just 19 years old, has shown a penchant to bail the side out of trouble and once he was offered a reprieve, it was business as usual.
He charged off the field after reaching his half-century, a composed 79-ball effort, setting the stage nicely for someone who the locals thought "bats like a West Indian". Playing his first game in the Caribbean, Dhoni sent the crowd into raptures with his thunderous hitting. Three mighty sixes, including one that cleared the ground, punctuated his 23-ball 45, but the manner in which they were executed thrilled the festive audience. He unleashed his trademark pick-up shot, planting his right foot and swirling his bat furiously, and put the spinners in their place with a couple of disdainful swipes.
A target of 290, on a two-paced surface, was always going to be a tough ask and despite the smallness of the ground, the Jamaican batsmen never threatened to get there. Ebanks's first-ball four off Irfan Pathan was to turn into a false dawn as the Indian bowlers produced an accurate performance. Munaf Patel worked up some good pace on a sluggish surface and Rudra Pratap Singh generated disconcerting lift. Daren Powell's two sixes at the end provided the crowd with something to cheer about, but the game, as a contest, was long gone.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo