After having been blown away by Christ Gayle at Trinidad on Saturday, India had everything to play for on Sunday at the Queen's Park Oval. The series level at 1-1, the deciding match was one last chance for India to redeem some pride at the end of a long and hitherto bleak tour.
The rub of the green and run of the ball went mostly in India's favour as Sourav Ganguly won the toss for the third time in succession. India made most of the good fortune that came their way, winning the match most comprehensively and taking the oneday series 2-1.
Given the fact that the track had already been used for 50 overs on Saturday and it exhibited some wear and tear, the surface almost resembled those commonly found in the sub-continent. Ganguly, thus, must have been might pleased at the idea of batting first on such a track. My own analysis was that the ball would start to keep low in the second half of the match, making it difficult for the batsmen to play their shots.
I was very impressed with India's game-plan, which laid a strong emphasis on building partnerships. The fact that India put up 260 bears testimony to this positive batting approach. True, the nature of the pitch was to the liking of the Indian batsmen, and they relish batting on such easy-paced tracks, but the runs still had to be made, and all credit to the Indians for making them.
The target was always going to be stiff, even for sides wellequipped to chase down such high totals. The West Indies never really recovered from the double-blow early on when the openers were dismissed for next to nothing. The West Indian batting, throughout this tour, has revolved around Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but on Sunday, Hooper failed for once, largely due to the mounting pressure of the required run-rate, and Brian Lara too failed to get going.
Even though Ridley Jacobs and Chanderpaul put up a brilliant fight, the Windies had surrendered the match in the early stages of the run chase. Few teams can afford to lose the top half of their batting line-up for just 88 runs and still chase down 248 runs in 44 overs.
Almost all of Ganguly's plans were executed to perfection. For once, this Indian team looked like a well-knit unit, and they deserved fully to win this crucial game. The 2-1 one-day series win will help team morale, even though they lost the Test series by the same margin.
I should also commend Ajit Agarkar for his effort in India winning the one-day series. He seems to have found his rhythm and has been bowling well under pressure. The only area of concern is that India still seem to be struggling when it comes to wicketkeeping. With the World Cup coming up in 2003, India should be playing a specialist stumper rather than have Rahul Dravid to plug the hole.
I am sure the team management has discussed the long-term aspects of his wicket-keeping assignment with Dravid. If they have, however, Dravid will have to think first as a wicket-keeper and then as a batsman.
The idea of sacrificing a specialist wicket-keeper to include the extra batsman baffles me, especially with a formidable line-up already in place. I also think India should always play five specialist bowlers. More thought, along such lines, should go into team composition, and we cannot afford to experiment, as we did in the Caribbean, once the World Cup rolls around.
Having said all this, I still feel that the Indians had a golden chance to win the Test series as well. After leading the series 1-0, they squandered a great opportunity. My feeling is that India should always play two spinners, since spin is their strength. I am happy, however, that the Indian side will at least return home with smiles on their faces.
In the interim, England have been playing some good cricket. I am sure that the Test series against England will be a closely contested one. Even though the series will be played in the second half of the English summer, I expect the tracks prepared for the series to offer considerable bounce. Javagal Srinath's experience in English conditions will definitely be missed, but the show must go on, and it is for the younger brigade to take up the challenge in England.