Profligate West Indies escape with thrilling win
West Indies 230 for 9 (Charles 97, Bravo 55, Yadav 3-43) beat India 229 for 7 (Rohit 60, Raina 44, Sammy 2-41, Roach 2-41) by 1 wicket
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The pursuit of the money shot nearly cost West Indies what should have been an easy win, and it took a 10-run stand for the last wicket in front of a nervous full house to end India's nine-match winning streak in international cricket.
With balls remaining in the chase of 230 out of equation, Kemar Roach and Tino Best, who had taken two wickets each previously, showed the more accomplished batsmen how to finish the chase off - they added 10 in 4.2 overs and still had 14 balls to spare - but it can also be argued that it was the free-flowing approach that put West Indies in comfortable positions in the first place in a chase that oscillated between the ridiculously easy and the plain ridiculous.
If West Indies kept India down to 229 for 7 through sustained pressure with the ball on a damp pitch, their response with the bat knew no caution: six of the nine wickets they lost were followed by boundaries immediately after, and five of their wickets were a result of extravagant shots when all they needed was 15 more minutes of sensible batting. The result was a thrilling finish where dot balls were cheered on vigorously, where three men around the bat became a regular sight, the annoying horns were almost all put away, and advice flowed freely from the engrossed crowd.
The teams could do with advice: they were both missing their captains. West Indies lost Dwayne Bravo to a groin injury before the match, and Kieron Pollard left behind three former captains to make his leadership debut. MS Dhoni injured himself while batting, and didn't take field. India's loss turned out to be more crucial: stand-in keeper Dinesh Karthik's gloves were visibly late to an R Ashwin offbreak with Johnson Charles stranded down the wicket.
What should have been a stumping to make it 198 for 8 now went for what was adjudicated four runs. Replays didn't show an edge, and even if there was one it was not significant enough for Karthik to be so far away from the line of the ball. It shouldn't take away from Charles' 97, though, who scored 60 in his last match against India.
Charles is not the most orthodox batsman, but he tends to put oppositions off. He has a low back lift, and decides late, almost too late, whether to move forward or back, and which shot to play. Somehow, though, he makes the best decisions on his day, which it was today. For company for most of his effort, Charles had Darren Bravo, who can be quiet the opposite: high back lift, a certain flair, a reliance on the early picking of the length, and a tendency to get better with the length of the innings.
Charles broke away early. His response to Chris Gayle's wicket, caught at short cover in the second over, was three straight fours hit straight down the ground off Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the third over. His response to the next two wickets - Devon Smith and Marlon Samuels - in the next two overs was to cart Bhuvneshwar and Umesh Yadav for three more fours. Some time later, he took his first single. It took him to 25, and West Indies to 42 for 2 in ninth over.
With the pitch easing out, India were now reliant on spin, but Charles and Bravo attacked India's magic man, Ravindra Jadeja, immediately. Each of them hit a six in Jadeja's first two overs, and it was down to Ashwin now, who was introduced in the 15th over. He troubled the batsmen immediately, but they both broke free, and brought up their fifties.
However, in what was to become the trend, Bravo fell to Ashwin when West Indies were headed towards an impregnable position. He went to hit a short ball, was done in by the stopping of it, and ended up dragging it to leg, leaving the last six 88 to get. Charles responded with his fourth six, this one brought up with an inside-out six hit off an Ashwin carrom ball that he picked early. West Indies were now 155 for 4 in the 30th over.
Wickets kept falling at the other end, with West Indies possibly looking for a bonus point. Pollard followed one wide delivery, Denesh Ramdin swung wildly, and India had been let back in at 161 for 6. Darren Sammy now launched a counterattack - 29 off 26 laced with three sixes - but he, too, left the job unfinished when he tried to hit Ishant Sharma for a third boundary in 37th over.
Soon, Charles was reprieved. He even tried to farm the strike, but on 97 with mid-off up, he couldn't hold himself back, and left the game open once again. West Indies still needed 19 runs, India sensed the win now, but Roach and Sunil Narine knocked nine of those runs. Time, then, for another rush of blood to the head. Narine, this time, drove uppishly, and straight to mid-on. All India had to do was keep the field and hold on to their catches. West Indies were throwing this game.
Not with Roach and Best, though. They batted like their lives depended on this knock, and drop by drop they took West Indies home. Looking at the celebrations from the crowd, it seemed all that preceded was forgotten. It wasn't.
West Indies crowds can be deceptive that way. They had seen a near professional performance with the ball earlier in the day. On a pitch that provided some variable tennis-ball bounce for the quicks and turn for the spinners, they bowled with hostility and aggression to keep India down. Roach and Sammy set the agenda with four wickets for 82 runs in their 20 overs, but they were aided well by the spinners, and Best, who was replacing the injured Ravi Rampaul.
Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina fought hard, but both fell short of damaging their reputations. Rohit is known to not convert starts and form into runs, and here he threw his wicket away after struggling through to 60. He is yet to score an international century outside the two he did inside three days in 2010. Raina's average, and his ability, diminish when he goes outside Asia, and just when he looked like he was en route to a special innings under pressure, he edged a wide ball for 44 of 55.
Outside these two, batting seemed a long struggle for India, and they also lost Dhoni when they were looking for the big push. West Indies needed all these riches considering they were going to bat like millionaires for whom the next hour didn't matter.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo