India sneak a low-scoring thriller
Brian Lara's West Indians outplayed India in the poor-batting stakes, and somehow contrived to fall short of a modest target of 163, giving India their first win against West Indies in six outings. After India had shown what not to do on a pitch that helped the bowlers a little, West Indies went one worse, converting what should have been a walk in the park to running a marathon, uphill, on crutches. In the face of some determined bowling, they simply imploded, and handed India their first win of the tournament.
When West Indies began their reply, it wasn't even time for the mid-match break - they had bowled India out in under 40 overs with enough time to face 9 overs. They faced those overs without doing anything silly, and it appeared that the game as a contest was finished. Then came the kind of madness that West Indies have become so famous for in recent times. Batsman after batsman played without purpose - completely failing to make use of the chance to spend some time out in the middle - and slowly, but surely, the wickets fell.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the first to go, undone by a bouncer from Munaf Patel that he could only mis-hit to square-leg. The extra bounce of Munaf worked again soon after as Ramnaresh Sarwan tried to cut a ball that was too close to him for the shot and edged to the keeper. Sreesanth got into the act, having Runako Morton caught behind, and Ajit Agarkar weighed in with the wicket of Marlon Samuels, trapped plumb in front. Not one to be left out, RP Singh chipped in, nailing the dangerous Chris Gayle lbw. West Indies were five down for 70 in 21.2 overs, and Harbhajan Singh had not even had a bowl yet.
When Harbhajan did come on to bowl, though, it was with a stride in his step and a mighty rip on the ball. He hung the ball in the air with great control, varying his pace and spin so effectively that Wavell Hinds seemed mesmerized. What followed was a period of strangulation where Hinds played one of the most forgettable innings you are likely to witness in a one-day match. He poked, prodded, padded, and struggled along to 8 off 57 balls before Harbhajan put him out of his misery. Hinds's weak attempt to turn an offbreak to the leg side resulted in a spooned return catch.
Fortunately for the West Indies, Dwayne Smith, who had set up the whole game so beautifully with a spell that yielded 4 for 31 had no cobwebs in his mind like Hinds, and hit three crisp boundaries to ensure that some runs got on the board. But, as is so often the case with Smith, the effort did not last long. Twelve from 5 balls, with 3 fours, and out lbw, albeit a trifle unlucky to be given out after he had inside-edged Agarkar back onto pad. With Lara not coming out to bat the Indians were able to keep the scoring down, all the while pressing for a wicket. And the wickets did come.
Dwayne Bravo lived dangerously, and was dropped by Munaf at mid-off when he drove on the up against Harbhajan without quite getting to the pitch of the ball. But Bravo did not learn from the let-off, and soon after overstretched trying to drive Harbhajan and was smartly stumped by Dhoni. At 96 for 7, finally Lara came out to bat, and it was left to him to do the batting for the Caribbean islands, even though the target was such a modest one.
Suddenly, the pressure was back on the Indians as Lara played like only he can, cover-driving with panache and straight driving with sublime skill. It was as though there were two different games happening simultaneously - one when Lara was on strike and the bowling looked utterly manageable and another entirely when the other West Indians batted, groping and feeling for the ball helplessly.
Carlton Baugh tried to break the mould, driving one tossed up Harbhajan delivery through cover for four. Perhaps lulled into a sense of false complacency, he dropped his guard, and one that went the other way kissed the outside edge and landed in Dravid's lap at slip. Nine down, and even with Lara farming the strike, India scented blood. When Lara, on 40, took a single off the fifth ball of the 41st over, bowled by Sreesanth, the air was heavy with tension. Sreesanth landed one perfectly on the stumps, it moved in enough to beat Collymore's defensive shot, the finger went up and India had pulled off a victory that should never have been theirs.
If the bowlers, backed up by some pretty tight fielding, had surpassed themselves, the batsmen certainly underperformed. Dravid's first-over dismissal - caught behind off Smith - set about a period of utter chaos where India's batsmen made the slightly nippy Smith look like Malcolm Marshall. Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh all fell at the slightest movement off the pitch, and at 38 for 4 India's goose was cooked. Fortunately for them, however, Tendulkar certainly didn't think it was over, and proceeded to buckle down and give the innings backbone. As the procession of lesser lights happened around him, Tendulkar got on top of the bowlers, and in Harbhajan - who began with a couple of lusty straight hits for six and then settled down to bat sensibly - he found an ally with whom an invaluable 78-run seventh wicket partnership pushed the Indian score on to its eventual 162. Harbhajan (37) was eventually caught behind off Gayle and Tendulkar (65) was unluckily run out at the bowler's end when he backed up too much. In the end, though, their contributions gave India enough to bowl at.
Rahul Dravid c Baugh b Smith 0 (1 for 1)
Feathered a nick to one that pitched in the corridor
Virender Sehwag b Smith 1 (6 for 2)
Was late on a ball that nipped back and took off stump
Suresh Raina c Gayle b Smith 11 (38 for 3)
Poked at one outside off and edged to slip
Yuvraj Singh c Baugh b Smith 0 (38 for 4)
Tickled a ball to the keeper
Mahendra Singh Dhoni b Collymore 18 (69 for 5)
Heaved at and missed one on off stump
Harbhajan Singh c Baugh b Gayle 37 (156 for 7)
Tried to cut and edged to the keeper
Sachin Tendulkar run out Samuels 65 (157 for 8)
Short of his crease backing up as the bowler palmed a straight drive onto the stumps
RP Singh b Gayle 2 (160 for 9)
Was late on a quick ball that perhaps kept a touch low
Sreesanth run out (Samuels/Baugh) 0 (162 for 10)
Short of his crease going for a misjudged third run
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Sehwag b Patel 21 (44 for 1)
Mis-hit a pull to square-leg
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Dhoni b Patel 2 (52 for 2)
Shaped to cut a ball that was a bit too close to the stumps for the shot and edged
Runako Morton c Dhoni b Sreesanth 27 (58 for 3)
Edged to slip for the catch to be fumbled and finally held by the keeper
Marlon Samuels lbw b Agarkar 5 (63 for 4)
Trapped in front by a straight ball
Chris Gayle lbw b RP Singh 1 (70 for 5)
Missed one that angled in
Dwayne Smith lbw b Agarkar 12 (83 for 6)
Unlucky to be adjudged lbw after inside edging onto pad
Dwayne Bravo st Dhoni b Harbhajan 10 (96 for 7)
Overstretched and was smartly stumped
Wavell Hinds c & b Harbhajan 8 (118 for 8)
Closed the face of the bat early and popped back a return catch
Carlton Baugh c Dravid b Harbhajan 6 (145 for 9)
Failed to pick a doosra and edged to slip
Corey Collymore lbw b Sreesanth 0 (146 for 10)
Missed a ball that pitched on the stumps and came back in slightly
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.