Windies prevail in tense finish
They came in large numbers to see India win, did not get that, but saw a nail-biter of a cricket match. West Indies sealed a semi-final spot by the skin of their teeth, making what should have been a walk in the park an incredibly tight finish, reaching their target of 224 with three wickets in hand and only two balls to spare.
When Brian Lara came out to bat at No. 6, with only 12 needed for victory from 13 balls, a West Indian victory seemed a formality. He further calmed the nerves, flaying Irfan Pathan through cover-point for a boundary. When he got a slightly short and wide one next up, his eyes lit up and he went for the big cut, only to drag the ball back onto his stumps. Lara left and Marlon Samuels, short on time in the middle and runs, was out there in the thick of things. When he pulled one, the ball landed tantalisingly close to Rahul Dravid at midwicket, and though he could not take the catch, he managed to send his return to the bowler in double-quick time, and Sarwan, attempting a second run for reasons known only to him, was run out, having made a composed 53.
Five needed from six balls then. Ajit Agarkar, bowling the last over, drilled a perfect yorker in first up and Dwayne Smith was cleaned up. Carlton Baugh, who wouldn't have even thought of getting his pads on half an hour before, squeezed out a single, and Samuels was on strike with four needed from three balls. Agarkar landed one short and wide, and Samuels couldn't believe his luck, and cut the ball perfectly past third-man for four and sealed the game.
When Chris Gayle began the West Indian chase, he batted as though they needed 324 to win, rather than 224, but then you could hardly blame him, for Pathan was distributing halfvolleys like mithai on Eid. Wide and full, with no elaborate swing to talk of, and just the right pace for the ball to come on to the bat, Pathan's bowling was dealt with severely by Gayle, who clouted the ball through the off side with gay abandon. It was Gayle's great strength that was his undoing - he was once dropped by Suresh Raina at cover off a full-blooded drive - as he tried to launch Munaf Patel over cover, and got more height on the ball than distance. But Gayle had made 34, and set West Indies on their way.
With Gayle gone, Shivnarine Chanderpaul took over the responsibility of scoring, and he did so in inimitable fashion, either blocking solidly or swatting and slapping with efficiency rather than grace. Few people know how to score in all different conditions, grafting and grinding as Chanderpaul, and when he was dismissed, edging Virender Sehwag to slip, he had racked up his 41st fifty, and took West Indies to 120 for 3.
Sarwan calm as anything, driving through cover with genuine style and fluency, had Runako Morton for company, and the two put on 92 for the fourth wicket, taking West Indies to the doorstep of victory. But they took their time doing so, and after a period when Harbhajan Singh and Sehwag operated together, the required run rate quietly crept up to a run-a-ball. But a couple of sweetly-timed boundaries was enough to reclaim breathing space. With only 12 to win, Morton missed a full one from Agarkar and was trapped lbw. Then came the brief period when West Indies did their best to snatch defeat not from the jaws, but the digestive tract, of victory. But really, India were always going to struggle to defend 223, and that they came as close as they did is testament to the self-belief in this team even as they're being written off.
When the day began it appeared that normal service had resumed as Sehwag breezily slashed one over slips for four and followed it up with a chopped boundary past point. But he was trapped in front by Jerome Taylor, who bowled with genuine pace, bending his back and extracting disconcerting bounce that troubled even Sachin Tendulkar.
Pathan went for a duck, dragging a wide one from Ian Bradshaw back onto his stumps, and that set a template for a more significant occurrence a bit later on. Tendulkar, who had batted with a good degree of control and authority, forging a partnership with Dravid, made 29 before dragging a ball from Bradshaw back onto his stumps.
If Tendulkar's dismissal silenced the previously raucous crowd, Dravid's fall, one short of a half-century, underscored India's plight, struggling at 131 for 5. India's batting, once the pride and joy of the nation, had played out a situation that has occurred so many times this season that it's like a recurring nightmare that just won't go away. Mahendra Singh Dhoni tapped one towards square-leg for a single that would get him off the mark, and Dravid scampered from the non-striker's end. Smith swooped in, picked the ball up one-handed and nailed the single stump he could see with a powerful throw.
Dhoni, in the company of Raina, showed that he is more than just a thrasher of the ball. He knuckled down and sealed one end up, steadfastly refusing to take even the slightest risk. At one stage he had scored only 16 from 45 balls, and when Raina struck a boundary, it was India's first in 74 balls. But, when the time came, Dhoni cut loose, unleashing a tremendous attack on the West Indians, starting with consecutive sixes off Gayle that easily cleared the ropes. Between brutalising the cricket ball, Dhoni ran like a man possessed, picking up two off virtually every ball. All of a sudden, he had given India the boost they had needed, and when he was run out on 51 off only 65 balls, India had managed 223 for 9 in their 50 overs. It gave the bowlers something to work with, and despite early mistakes, in the end, fight they did. And they'll have to pick themselves up once more, for soon they're in a shoot-out with Australia for a place in the semi-finals.
Virender Sehwag lbw b Taylor 17 (22 for 1)
Beaten for pace and trapped lbw
Irfan Pathan b Bradshaw 0 (27 for 2)
Dragged a wide delivery back onto his stumps
Sachin Tendulkar b Bradshaw 29 (69 for 3)
Dragged a widish delivery back onto his stumps
Yuvraj Singh c Bravo b Bradshaw 27 (130 for 4)
Drove uppishly straight to mid-off
Rahul Dravid run out (Smith) 49 (131 for 5)
Well short of his crease as a brilliant throw from square-leg nailed the stumps
Suresh Raina st Baugh b Samuels 19 (164 for 6)
Overbalanced and was stumped
Harbhajan Singh b Taylor 15 (213 for 7)
Big heave and another person to get an inside edge onto the stumps
Mahendra Singh Dhoni run out (Chanderpaul/Baugh) 51 (223 for 8)
Short of his crease attempting a frantic second at the end of the innings
Ajit Agarkar run out (Baugh) 1 (223 for 9)
Attempted a bye off the last ball of the innings
Chris Gayle c RP Singh b Munaf 34 (43 for 1)
Hit high rather than far when trying to clear cover
Dwayne Bravo lbw b Harbhajan 16 (100 for 2)
Trapped in front by one that turned
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Dravid b Sehwag 51 (120 for 3)
Edged to slip
Runako Morton lbw b Agarkar 45 (212 for 4)
Trapped in front by a full, swinging delivery
Brian Lara b Pathan 5 (218 for 5)
Dragged a ball back onto his stumps
Ramnaresh Sarwan run out (Dravid/Pathan) 53 (219 for 6)
Found short attempting a nonexistent second
Dwayne Smith b Agarkar 0 (219 for 7)
Cleaned up by a perfect yorker
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo