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The Verdict by Anand Vasu in Mumbai
October 14, 2006
The ICC is fire fighting on a daily basis, responding with as much restraint as possible to an increasingly confrontational Board of Control for Cricket in India. Ticket prices in Mumbai are inversely proportional to the interest for matches, and the average Mumbaikar has all but been priced out of the market. The newspapers are full of stories scrutinising players' endorsements to find one that might conflict with an ICC sponsor.
The early matches were merely good sides bullying the hapless into submission. When Sri Lanka v West Indies came along, when Muttiah Muralitharan v Brian Lara came along, there was the smallest hope that some good cricket would put bat and ball back in the news. In two hours and 26 minutes of graceless batting West Indies ensured that no-one missed Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, the two teams to make the earliest possible exit in this tournament.
The dragonflies hovered low, on the square as the game got under way, and to West Indies' batsmen they must have looked like vultures. So much had been made of Chris Gayle and his form, his two Man-of-the-Match awards, that it might just have been an anticlimax had he succeeded. He jammed one from Chaminda Vaas in Kumar Sangakkara's gloves. Ramnaresh Sarwan, whose impressive statistics somehow never seem to stack up with his performance in genuinely big games, survived one confident lbw shout from a Vaas inducker, and soon after walked into a ball in front of middle stump.
But it was not the wily Vaas who walked away with the spoils. After Vaas had picked the lock, it was Farveez Maharoof who looted the treasury. On a wicket that suited his style of bowling, honest and controlled, he ensured that he put the ball in one of two areas - either where the West Indians would have to reach for it to drive on the up, or perfectly full where the slightest hesitation would be fatal - and he was rewarded relentlessly.
Lara had pleaded that his team was no more dependent on one or two players than anyone else, that any team in the world struggled if someone in the top four did not bat through the innings. He's likely to maintain a semblance of calm when he speaks to the media after this performance, but one can only hope he reads his team the riot act. Shivnarine Chanderpaul is one person who can be excused, for he got just about the only ball that bounced a touch extra, and could only edge to the 'keeper.
Lara left the ball well, but even he did not seem entirely at ease, and more than once the ball speared off the inside edge to the leg side. The pitch is going to be a cause for concern for officials at the Cricket Club of India. While you normally compliment a pitch for having consistent bounce, this one was so consistently low, and that usually makes for dull cricket. Still, it was the kind of pitch that you needed to get used to, and then graft on, and that sort of batsman is rarely born in the West Indies. Lara, who himself was lucky that Asad Rauf did not lift the finger on two occasions, could not survive a third as a Maharoof delivery that was headed for the middle stump was interrupted in its path by Lara's pad.
With Lara gone, only West Indian fanatics would have hoped for a show of backbone. Maharoof, hardly the kind of bowler you'd back to run through a side - any side - ran in straight, pitched the ball in the tramlines batsmen hate the most, and enthusiastically huffed and puffed his way to a career best 6 for 14. West Indies batsmen will find it hard to return to the dressing room and face Clive Lloyd, who is thankfully with the team in an advisory rather than executionary role, and they'd be very glad he doesn't have Big Bertha with him anymore.
To someone who has held the World Cup aloft twice, and dominated the globe for a period of time, it must be frustrating and unfathomable in equal manner how the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Smith approach their cricket. The talent is unmistakably there, but if brisk medium deliveries pitched in the right place - no exaggerated swing or seam movement - prove too much to negotiate, then what can anyone do to help you?
Folding for 80, five short of what the Zimbabweans - essentially a rag-tag mob of club and schoolboy cricketers - scored against them, West Indies plumbed a new depth. They fall frequently enough - disappointing their intelligent and passionate fans - but somehow or the other find a way to slip lower. Lara spoke earnestly - that air of brashness and seeming arrogance that previously used to be a feature of his press conferences is long gone - of how Lloyd was someone who commanded respect, and how respect was something West Indies needed. What he says is dead right, but sometimes you wonder if even he knows how they are going to achieve that, playing as they do.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala