Lara spurred on by Chappell comment - again
Brian Lara once again cited Greg Chappell's comments - that West Indies' poor run of form had made it difficult for them to win close games - as the spur for a thrilling three-wicket triumph at the Motera Stadium. The victory not only took West Indies into the semi-finals as they seek to defend the trophy they won two years ago in England, but it also ensured that either Australia or India, two of the pre-tournament favourites, will be missing from the climactic week of action.
Addressing the media after his batsmen had chased down 223 with two balls remaining, Lara said: "Going back to that statement that Greg [Chappell] made in Jamaica, the guys are really determined each time they get out on to the field against India. We've done that in the Caribbean, and in Malaysia we had a win and a loss. Here again, most importantly, playing India at home, the guys knew the enormous task it was.
"Yes, we were winning against them, but in foreign conditions to them. Playing here in Ahmedabad, they definitely had the advantage, with the crowd and knowing the pitch. We wanted to win, and we planned to win, and the guys executed well."
Despite a worrying wobble at the end, Lara was more than satisfied with the manner in which the top order went about the task, propelled by another blistering cameo from Chris Gayle. "I thought it was very well calculated by all the batsmen," he said. "Partnerships were very important, and it was a lot of mature batting from the likes of Chris Gayle and right through. Dwayne Bravo, batting for the first time at No. 3, had a 50-run partnership with Chanderpaul, the man of the match, who guided it.
"Sarwan seems to be gaining more and more with experience, showing the class and determination that he has. It was a good victory, but not comprehensive. It came down to the last. Someone was saying: 'West Indies will always give you excitement'. We gave you this match and we gave you a do-or-die in Mohali on Sunday (laughs)."
Though he didn't focus too much on individuals, Lara was delighted with the form shown by Runako Morton, who followed up a superb 90 against Australia with a vital 45 in this game. "We've been working on getting him to play a lot of shots and manoeuvring the ball around the field," he said. "He knew he had to work on it, and was willing to do it. What we know about Morton is that he doesn't give up his wicket very cheaply, and he's someone that done very well in Test matches in recent times. Now's he adapting to the one-day game, and he's definitely someone we like having around. The last two games, he's shown that he wants to be in the team. Consistency is now what's expected."
In the space of little over a week, West Indies have prevailed over both Australia and India, and Lara, who played his part in the first triumph with a dazzling 71, refused to rate one above the other. "We spoke about these two games, playing against the No. 1 team in the world and playing against the hosts, and I don't think any one gave us more satisfaction," he said. "If we get past the first round in the World Cup, Australia and India are two teams we're going to meet in the second round. Getting that advantage, playing away from home and beating them, is good. But we've got to move on. This is just the build-up to it [the World Cup], and I'm very happy with the way we're approaching it."
The upswing in West Indies' one-day fortunes has coincided with Lara's third stint at the helm, and he attributed recent impressive victories to more thorough preparation off the field. "I think regrouping and finding out exactly where we've been going wrong," he said, when asked if he could pinpoint a factor or two for the reversal of fortune. "It's never been a situation where we're short in confidence, or on talent. It's about getting it together, and doing a lot of background work. The guys talk a lot of cricket off the field, that's where you learn the game. It's very good to see the younger players make a contribution and that's where we're winning the game - off the field."
There was some sympathy for an Indian line-up that will face intense criticism if they exit their own party on Sunday. "The conditions are pretty difficult, the pitches are not batting paradises," he said. "India also have a lot of their experienced batsmen up in the top five. So if you keep them tight, contain and take wickets, it's a little vulnerable in the middle. But the likes of [Suresh] Raina and [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni have less than 100 one-day matches. They're going to learn the game as they go on, and you expect India in their conditions to excel. In a tournament like the World Cup in the Caribbean, where the pitches are similar to Indian ones, I think India are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
His own participation in the game was in doubt till the very last, but Lara suggested that pulling out had never really been an option, given what was at stake. "I wasn't a hundred percent, but I thought we'd leave it as late as possible," he said. "This morning, I did some work with the physiotherapist and felt a lot better. I thought it was a very important game for us. We didn't want to come back on Saturday and have to win against England."
The fact that he made only five didn't bother him, with Marlon Samuels' slash to third man ensuring that there would be no fatal twist in the tale. "It was a short ball, but I didn't pick up the slower ball," he said when asked of his dismissal. "I had to try to change the shot midway. It was unfortunate to drag it back onto the stumps. But we knew exactly what we had to do. We kept wickets in hand, and won at the end of the day."
And after an outing where nearly everyone impressed, it's going to be a brave man who ridicules their chances of going all the way again.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo