India snatch high-scoring thriller
It ended dramatically at Sabina Park, with tension contorting the faces of anxious fans, both Indian and West Indian, as the hosts pursued India's massive total of 339 with tenacity. West Indies chased valiantly and stayed in the game throughout despite the regular fall of wickets but, in the end, their challenge lacked an innings combining aggression with longevity, two qualities that Yuvraj Singh blended perfectly during his match-winning 131 off 102 balls.
India were succumbing to their bugbear, having lost early wickets to the short ball, when Yuvraj joined Dinesh Karthik to rebuild the innings from 32 for 2. His approach made up for the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina and allayed fears of weakness in the batting order. Yuvraj revived the Indian innings by adding 135 with Karthik for the third wicket, a partnership that laid the platform for only the second ODI total in excess of 300 in Jamaica.
That two out of the three 300-plus scores at Sabina Park were made in this match despite a slow pitch and outfield spoke volumes about the mediocrity of the bowling attacks. West Indies' bowling disintegrated after Jerome Taylor's opening spell, losing discipline in line and length as they fed the Indian batsmen a diet of short or full balls. They conceded 22 runs in extras, and bowled three front-foot no-balls resulting in free hits, largesse they could ill afford. India's bowlers were worse, conceding 19 runs through wides, and bowling two no-balls: Chris Gayle deposited one of the free-hits over the long-on boundary. That they defended the target by 20 runs, was more due to the size of the total they were protecting and the West Indies' batsmen's ill-timed dismissals each time they got on a roll.
India seemed unlikely, however, to reach such a large total on evidence of how they batted at the start. Taylor hurried the batsmen with pace and beat them with seam movement during his first spell. He unsettled Gautam Gambhir with a 92mph delivery from round the wicket that hurried the left-hander, whose feeble attempt to hook landed in Dwayne Bravo's hands at midwicket. Unfortunately for West Indies, the pressure Taylor created dissipated because there was none forthcoming from the other end with Lionel Baker, Dwayne Bravo and David Bernard unable to bowl economically for a sustained period.
Even the batsmen who revived India survived nervous starts: Karthik was cut in half by Baker while Yuvraj was constantly beaten by short-of-length deliveries which seamed across him. The moment the length was full, though, the batsmen took advantage: Karthik drove Dwayne Bravo to the extra-cover boundary and Yuvraj was able to put away Baker's full offering to the point fence.
After growing in confidence, Karthik added Twenty20 flavour to the sedate pace of 50-over cricket, reaching his half-century with a scoop that carried for six over fine leg against Bernard. He tried it again, on 67, but this time he was undone by Bernard's slower ball and scooped a catch to the wicketkeeper.
Yuvraj, however, stayed firm and the momentum swung towards India in two phases, the first of which was when the spinners came on after the 20th over. He attacked Suleimann Benn and Gayle, pulling and slog-sweeping thrice over the midwicket boundary and India, largely through Yuvraj scored 70 runs between overs 20 and 27.
The second period of acceleration was during the batting Powerplay, taken in the 34th over. India began the five-over spell on 191 for 3 and Yuvraj set the tone by carving Baker to the cover boundary off the second ball before launching sixes over cover and midwicket to take 16 runs off the over.
Gayle turned to his best bowler but Yuvraj tore into Taylor's second spell, flicking him twice off the pads for four, and hitting him for sixes over cover, midwicket and long-on. MS Dhoni also went after him, shoveling a six down the ground. Taylor's two-over spell cost 37 runs and India scored 62 off the Powerplay. Taylor never recovered from the onslaught and finished with 1 for 74 after conceding only 16 off his first five overs.
West Indies appeared hapless against Yuvraj until Dwayne Bravo found the edge of his bat as he tried to glance towards fine leg. Bravo raised hopes of a fightback by dismissing Ravindra Jadeja first ball but useful innings from Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan steered India past 300, and a six from Harbhajan Singh off the last ball took them to 339.
Chasing 340 needed something special from Gayle and he began to deliver, muscling his way to 37 before top-edging a pull off Ashish Nehra to mid-on. Morton attempted to fill the void left by his opening partner and stepped up after his departure, steering West Indies to 70 for 1 after ten overs before he was unlucky to be given out caught down the leg side for 42. Despite the loss of both set batsmen, Ramnaresh Sarwan ensured West Indies kept abreast with the asking-rate, using his feet nimbly against the spinners to clear the boundary. In fact, Sarwan had just lofted Yuvraj for the most languid of straight sixes when he was run out for 45 the next ball while attempting an unnecessary second run.
It was now down to Shivnarine Chanderpaul and he too stepped up to ensure the equation didn't get out of hand, carting Yuvraj for consecutive sixes and reaching his half-century with two whips to the fine-leg boundary off Ishant Sharma. However, Chanderpaul also fell immediately after hitting a six: he had smacked Yusuf Pathan over the square-leg boundary and was caught repeating the shot the very next ball. Chanderpaul's dismissal for 63 was a crippling blow and appeared to be the end of West Indies chances but they fought on determinedly. Denesh Ramdin threw his bat around, so did Jerome Taylor and David Bernard, fraying India's nerves to the limit. They couldn't quite complete what would have been an astonishing win, though, for they needed one of their more accomplished top-order batsmen to stay to stay a little longer.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo