Tendulkar fires India to series win
Sachin Tendulkar, Indian cricket's first among equals, led the way with a sensational 76-ball century as a mighty batting performance overwhelmed West Indies to seal the four-match series in emphatic fashion. Having piled up 341 from their 50 overs, India romped to a 160-run victory, with the West Indian big three contributing just 23 runs between them. Brian Lara's final innings on Indian soil ended with an unfortunate run-out, on a day when he was comfortably eclipsed by the man who has been his great friend and rival for nigh on two decades.
Having come in at 148 for 2, halfway through the innings with Sourav Ganguly just having been stumped for a fine 68, Tendulkar scripted a magnificent innings, reaching three figures off the final delivery, a push to midwicket. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had come in and biffed a stunning 40 from just 20 deliveries at the end, including three huge sixes, and there were sizeable contributions from Ganguly and Rahul Dravid as the batsmen ran riot following Lara's decision to field.
The final passage of play was just carnage, with Dhoni and Tendulkar walloping 75 from 39 balls after two century partnerships earlier had set the game up for the Indians. Tendulkar scampered his ones and twos with tremendous energy, and picked the gaps in the outfield when the opportunities came. There was one massive six off Marlon Samuels that sailed over midwicket, though he was extremely fortunate to be at the receiving end of two wretched bits of fielding.
First, Lara dropped a chance to his left at cover when Tendulkar had made 85, and six runs later, Dwayne Smith allowed a flick off the pads to sail through his palms at deep square leg. It summed up a very ordinary fielding display from the West Indies, with India's batsmen targetting the weak arms with ruthless precision.
|It had been nearly four years since Tendulkar struck a hundred in a winning cause, but on a day when nearly everything went his way, there was little risk of his thunder being stolen. Not even by Lara.|
After his gamble at the toss, Lara had taken another punt with the new ball. Ian Bradshaw was back in the XI, but it was the sedate medium pace of Smith that he turned to as foil to Daren Powell, perhaps inspired by memories of Smith's 4 for 31 against India at Kuala Lumpur. He nearly had Uthappa early as well, with umpire Amish Saheba turning down a leg-before appeal that looked fairly adjacent to the naked eye. Uthappa though was quickly on his way, with a thick edge to third man and a steer in the same direction - shots that left Powell infuriated. Things then came to a boil in his next over. A misdirected bouncer went for five wides and then Uthappa took over, with a nonchalant slash for six over third man and a magnificent loft over long-on, hitting through the line to a ball that wasn't even full.
The next ball was quicker and short of a length, and the edge was neatly taken at first slip. There was a brief lull as Dravid took nine balls to get off the mark, but by then, Ganguly was in cruise control. Powell had induced a top-edged hook off a short ball from round the wicket and West Indies zoomed in on this supposed frailty with disastrous results. Both Smith and Powell were pulled disdainfully for four, and when the full delivery was directed at his legs, he moved out of the way and hit cleanly through the covers. The only thing that looked like stopping him was a dodgy back that required manipulation from the physio when he'd made 37, and after the treatment, India upped the ante.
Dravid was soon into his stride too, with lovely cuts for four off Rayad Emrit, and a glorious straight loft off Samuels. Samuels and Emrit reined things in somewhat, but runs came steadily on a pitch where the grass cover was like a chimera. Ganguly's dismissal, giving Chris Gayle the charge, allowed West Indies to fancy their chances, but then Tendulkar came out and made their morning a nightmare.
Dravid and Tendulkar were clearly aware of what had transpired at Chennai when they tried to force the pace too soon and here, they took 64 balls for the 50 partnership, picking off singles and biding their time. When the acceleration came, West Indies didn't know how to cope. Gayle bowled tidily, conceding just 34 from his eight overs, but every other bowler came in for a fearful pummelling. Dravid took 77 balls for his 50 and then ticked along at nearly a run a ball, even as Tendulkar started to find the gaps with unerring regularity. The partnership was worth 118 in just 18.3 overs when Dravid's flail at Samuels dropped into the hands of long-on.
Dhoni gave no respite, setting himself and proceeding to unveil two of those mind-boggling shovelled sixes, but even his destructive ways were eclipsed by the master who timed his century to a nicety.
West Indies' chase was a non-starter. Just two months on after his Player of the Tournament exploits in the Champions Trophy, Gayle ended a depressing series by having his off stump knocked out. Ajit Agarkar was the man responsible, for the third game running, and with hopes of a turbo-charged start extinguished, the pressure mounted on Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
It proved to be too much. Moments after striking the umpire with a crisp shot off the pads, Chanderpaul took the aerial route against Zaheer Khan, only finding Harbhajan at deep square leg. Samuels, on the back of 98 at Chennai, came in and started to stroke the ball superbly, and with Devon Smith also thumping some fine strokes through the covers, the run rate started to nudge up.
Irfan Pathan, on his return, conceding eight in his opening over, and everything seemed to happen when he had the ball in hand. First, Smith thwacked one to midwicket where Yuvraj Singh, whose fitness has been constantly monitored since his return, flew to his left to pouch a stunner.
Lara entered to a standing ovation, but lasted just two balls, before Pathan's attempt to take a return catch off Samuels crashed into the stumps at the non-striker's end. Lendl Simmons went soon after to a brilliant direct hit from Suresh Raina, leaving Samuels and Denesh Ramdin to salvage some pride from a clearly hopeless situation. They added 66 before Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, playing in tandem for once, ended any thoughts of resistance, and it was left to Yuvraj to apply the finishing touch.
It had been nearly four years since Tendulkar struck a hundred in a winning cause, but on a day when nearly everything went his way en route to No.41, there was little risk of his thunder being stolen. Not even by Lara.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo