West Indies v India, 2nd ODI, Jamaica May 21, 2006

Staying power

The agony and the ecstasy: Yuvraj Singh mulls over what could have been for India © Getty Images

Another last-over finish, but this time Sabina Park witnessed the real cliffhanger. Two days back, India, in a mighty harum-scarum, flirted with defeat despite being in control before edging past the finish line. But for sheer edge-of-the-seat excitement, from gradual build-up to a glorious climax, this one was streets ahead. The fact that the home side won in a grandstand finish, leveling the series after two games, prompted a befitting revelry.

Compared to Thursday, this game had far fewer runs, yet it was a far superior contest. Distinct lulls in play were interspersed with moments of brilliance; acrobatic fielding from both sides provided a spectacle in itself; and the climax was approached gradually, rather than the frenzied patchiness that characterised the first match. The fact that large chunks of play involved a packed house cheering dot balls, tells you about the excitement this contest provoked.

On a sluggish pitch, with the ball often stopping on the bat, two men produced outstanding 90s but the rest pretty much disintegrated. Both Ramnaresh Sarwan and Yuvraj Singh showed the value of building an innings, a quality that a few other batsmen, who tried to hit themselves out of trouble, would do well to inculcate. Rahul Dravid felt that Yuvraj's innings was "one of the best he had seen while chasing under pressure". Lara had one apt word for Sarwan's effort: "extraordinary".

Why Suresh Raina had to try and hit out of the ground, a ball after he survived a stumping chance, will remain a mystery. So will Shivnarine Chanderpaul's loose airy drive, when his side were three down for not too many. The conditions were far more human - bright and sunny and a refreshingly steady breeze blowing all day. It partly explains the high standards in the field; it also tells you that the faster bowlers moved it.

Both teams lifted their fielding standards, both sets of bowlers improved their accuracy. West Indies were a side transformed on the field. Marlon Samuels, Brian Lara, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith, the substitute were like panthers on the prowl. India matched them and once, when Raina pulled off a direct hit, left Asad Rauf, the umpire, quite baffled. He had allowed the ball to be bowled with Billy Doctrove, the square-leg umpire, getting the sight-screen adjusted. The Indians appealed, then looked around to search for the missing umpire, only to see the ball to be called "dead" soon after.

Gayle and Samuels did what Ramesh Powar and Harbhajan Singh had done earlier in the day: plugging away at a nagging length, they frustrated the batsmen. The fact that Sarwan took 47 balls to reach double figures tells you a story. But that was, as he was to admit later, partly because he wanted to stay there till the 50th over. Soon, width was dismissed, flight was attacked, and length was punished. Despite the poor run-rate, he didn't give it away, assessing the pitch and making sure he didn't try for too many too early. He set himself up with fifty off 92, prowled around for a few more overs before launching into a brief blast that boosted West Indies to close to 200.

Yuvraj's was similar in execution, preferring to graft through the middle and keeping his wicket intact for the grand finale. His fifty came off 95 balls. At 4:25 in the evening he saw Mahendra Dhoni play on; twenty minutes later he watched Ian Bradshaw pull off a superb return catch. At 4:50 he cracked a most majestic square drive; ten minutes later he unleashed a mighty pull that cleared midwicket.

At 5:25 he witnessed Powar hole out to long-off; five minutes later he juddered a thunderous straight-drive. At 5:40, with 11 still needed, he faced up to the last over; three minutes later he top-edged a four to third man, soon after, he cracked a blinder to extra-cover. Two runs off three balls. With glory beckoning, at close to 5:45, he tried to cutely paddle one to the leg side, was beaten by Dwyane Bravo's straight, yorker-length slower ball and bowled. He sat on his haunches as the crowd erupted. Sarwan had stayed till the end, Yuvraj hadn't. And that, as they say, was what made all the difference.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo