Windies clinch a low-scoring thriller
West Indies held their nerve superbly in a nail-biting finish to sneak a one-run win despite once again floundering with the bat. They managed only 198, even that thanks to a battling unbeaten 98 from Ramnaresh Sarwan. Yuvraj Singh responded with 93, but was bowled by a clever Dwayne Bravo slower ball with only two balls to go in the innings. If the first game was a win that almost wasn't for India, the second was a loss that shouldn't have been.
Yuvraj has been the in-form batsman for India a few months now and even he struggled to score fluently early on, after India had slumped to 60 for 4 in pursuit of a total that should not have caused problems for a team that has won seventeen games on the trot chasing.
The warning signs were there early on when Ian Bradshaw, accurate and probing, had Virender Sehwag brilliantly caught at point and Rahul Dravid nicking a delivery that slanted away from the bat. Irfan Pathan played an ambitious across-the-line heave and Marlon Samuels plucked the ball out of the air at midwicket. The West Indies were turning the heat on. And Mohammad Kaif, who has felt the heat more than most in recent times, his unbeaten half-century in the last ODI notwithstanding, negotiated a mere 12 balls before mis-hitting a pull and being caught at square-leg.
Suresh Raina partnered Yuvraj, and suddenly batting became more about scampering singles than crunching cover drives. Brian Lara sensibly took the pace off the ball, ushering in the off-spinning duo of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, and suddenly the balls ticked over faster than the runs could come.
Raina's busy demeanour at the crease gave way to restlessness and a wanton charge down the wicket to Gayle, where Carlton Baugh fluffed a simple stumping chance, was followed by a similar premeditated waltz that only resulted in the ball being deposited down Shivnarine Chanderpaul's throat at long-on. Raina had made 27, and India were 124 for 5.
The presence of Mahendra Dhoni, and the relatively modest target, meant India could breathe just a shade easy, but that was soon to change. Dhoni, looking to get his eye in had not yet attempted a big shot, but an attempted drive through point found its way back to the leg stump via the inside edge. Soon Ajit Agarkar had scooped a return catch to Bradshaw, and India were seven down for 134, still 65 runs adrift.
Yuvraj, at no stage bludgeoning the ball like he can, seemed to understand that India would get across the line if he held onto his wicket, and kept his head. Every now and then - as with an early crashing cover-drive against Taylor or a powerful pull off the same bowler for maximum towards the end - Yuvraj managed to release the pressure.
Taking strike in the second ball of the final over with 10 needed for victory Yuvraj streaked an edge past the keeper for a boundary and followed it up with a supreme cover-drive that raced to the fence. Bravo, charged with bowling the pressure-packed last over, rose to the challenge magnificently, and sent down a slower ball that beat the bat, brushed pad and rolled back onto the stumps, setting off the biggest party Kingston has seen in some time as West Indies won a thriller. Yuvraj had done almost everything right, and the sight of him squatting on the pitch, looking back at his disturbed stumps told a tale.
There was a time in this game when it seemed unlikely that the match would go down to the wire like it did, much less end in a West Indies win. Pathan and Agarkar began tremendously after Dravid won the toss and put West Indies in, cleaning up the openers, including the dangerous Chris Gayle, with just one run on the board.
Then Agarkar could have had Lara twice - first when a close lbw shout was turned down, and soon after when Raina dropped a catch at second slip - and India looked right in control. Lara did not make it count, flashing Pathan to Dravid at slip. At 25 for 3 West Indies were in danger of being shot out extremely cheaply. But Ramnaresh Sarwan ensured that this did not happen.
Sarwan began in characteristically low-key fashion, dabbing, flicking and pushing the ball into the gaps for ones and twos, but soon realised that there was great merit in taking on the bowlers when they erred in line. He carved boundaries over the covers with an angled bat, and after crossing fifty, with the West Indian innings gaining some momentum, he opened his shoulders and took on the leg-side field, hitting Pathan for two fours and a six in three balls. He ended on 98, and richly deserved a hundred for his effort. He won't mind missing out on a hundred, though, for his was a matchwinning hand.
Chris Gayle c Dhoni b Agarkar 0 (1 for 1)
Hung his bat out to one that left him
Runako Morton lbw b Pathan 1 (1 for 2)
Played from the crease to an inswinger that hit him a touch high on the pad
Brian Lara c Dravid b Pathan 14 (24 for 3)
Felt for a ball outside the off and edged to slip
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Kaif b Harbhajan 10 (43 for 4)
Went to cut a short ball but did not clear point
Marlon Samuels c Dhoni b Yuvraj 19 (103 for 5)
Came down the pitch to a quick one that bounced a touch more than expected
Dwayne Bravo c Raina b Powar 0 (105 for 6)
Flicked to short midwicket
Carlton Baugh c Pathan b Powar 21 (143 for 7)
Holed out to midwicket
Ian Bradshaw c Harbhajan b Pathan 12 (163 for 8)
Swiped across the line and found long-on
Jerome Taylor c Dhoni b Agarkar 9 (197 for 9)
Tried to dab the ball past the keeper and edged
Virender Sehwag c Smith b Bradshaw 12 (25 for 1)
Pushed on the up and was well caught at point
Rahul Dravid c Baugh b Bradshaw 11 (37 for 2)
Poked at a delivery angling away from him
Irfan Pathan c Samuels b Edwards 14 (51 for 3)
Heaved across the line and well caught at midwicket
Mohammad Kaif c Smith b Taylor 4 (60 for 4)
Ballooned a catch to square-leg trying to pull
Suresh Raina c Chanderpaul b Samuels 27 (124 for 5)
Holed out to long off
Mahendra Dhoni b Taylor 2 (130 for 6)
Dragged a ball back onto his stumps trying to drive through point
Ajit Agarkar c & b Bradshaw 2 (134 for 7)
Scooped a ball back to the bowler who took a good diving catch
Ramesh Powar c Taylor b Samuels 12 (177 for 8)
Came down the pitch and holed out to long off
Harbhajan Singh c & b Gayle 1 (187 for 9)
Chipped a return catch for Gayle to dive and hold
Yuvraj Singh b Bravo 93 (197 for 10)
Missed a slower ball and was bowled off pad
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo