India snatch lead with last-over win
MS Dhoni and India kept their nerve on a frustrating day of rain delays to take a 2-1 series lead in St Lucia. It was still anybody's game when India needed 11 off the final over, but Dhoni slammed the second ball over deep midwicket to put the visitors on course for victory.
India threatened to lose their way in the chase after a solid start provided by Dinesh Karthik before Dhoni hauled them past the line. The rain-breaks initially readjusted their target to 195 in 27 overs before a further shower reduced it to 159 in 22 overs.
When Karthik fell after a fine 47 India needed a relatively comfortable 111 from 89 balls, and at the next rain-break they needed 64 from 51 balls with nine wickets in hand, but a succession of wickets left India requiring 34 in four overs. It came down to the last over. Curiously, Chris Gayle turned to Jerome Taylor, who had a poor game, instead of Ravi Rampaul, who had bowled a pretty decent 20th over. Dhoni killed the contest in the second ball with a six over deep midwicket. He picked the slower one and used his bottom-hand to swipe it with the wind over midwicket boundary. Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan got the remaining four runs with a ball to spare.
Dhoni had shepherded the tail end of the chase calmly, taking care to preserve his wicket even as his partners deserted him. Yuvraj Singh holed out to long-on and Rohit Sharma swung to deep midwicket but Dhoni hung around, hitting the occasional four to make sure the game didn't get away from India. And he effectively finished the game with that six in the last over. However, it was Karthik who set the platform with a fine knock, with a little bit of help from West Indies.
On this soft track, West Indies erred by bowling short to Karthik, who, unlike a few of his team-mates, likes playing the pull shot. It was slightly surprising that Jerome Taylor didn't repeat his first delivery - a gem that was full and shaped away late past the outside edge - to Karthik again during his opening spell. It was that delivery that had got Karthik in the previous game too but that length was rarely seen today.
Karthik looked in fine touch, unfurling several spanking pulls and cuts. He started with a pull, followed it with a caressed extra-cover drive before playing a fierce upper cut over backward point for three consecutive boundaries against Taylor. Karthik never let the momentum slip after that. Even Dwayne Bravo bowled short at him and Karthik pulled him for a four and a stunning six. In between, he kept the singles and twos coming. It was a polished performance which was cut short by an unnecessary scramble for a single after Gambhir had cut straight to Rampaul at backward point.
Gambhir played a sedate hand today. He didn't look too comfortable at the start, almost ran himself out on three occasions, and hit his first boundary only in the 12th over. However, unlike in the recent past, he didn't try to hit his way out of trouble; he was willing to look ugly. He eventually fell, edging behind an attempted cut Sulieman Benn but Dhoni made sure India won the game.
Just as they tried gamely in the end of the chase to create a flutter, West Indies had earlier batted well to post a competitive total despite the frequent rain breaks. Dhoni won a crucial toss and made the obvious decision to bowl as no one knew how many overs the team batting first will get to play on a rainy day at St Lucia. West Indies rallied through a frenetic start provided by Gayle and a composed knock by Ramnaresh Sarwan to reach 185 for 7 at the end of their allotted 27 overs.
Gayle started like a runaway train, putting immense pressure on Ishant Sharma and Ashish Nehra. Time and again, Gayle thrust his back foot back and across, opened his stance and depending on the line, hit to the on or off side. The stand-out shot, though, was when he disregarded the line and swat-pulled an Ishant delivery from well outside off to deep midwicket. Gayle didn't spare Nehra too, lashing him through covers before unfurling a delicate flick shot. However, Gayle fell to Nehra first ball after a break for rain, edging a cut against a short and wide delivery.
Sarwan, though, kept the scorecard moving along by maneuvering the ball into the gaps for singles and twos. In between, he whipped and pulled Yuvraj to boundaries but ran himself out, turning back for the second run after tapping to square leg. He kept his cool and tried gamely to adjust to the new scenario provided by the frequent interruptions.
Sarwan was helped by a lovely cameo by Darren Bravo. His innings was filled with several delicious strokes that had a touch of Brian Lara. There were two fine sashays down the track against Yusuf Pathan for lofted boundaries but his best shot, and the shot of the day that evoked memories of that great left-hander, was a fabulous cover drive off RP Singh. Up went the bat as he crouched on his knees before swinging through the line of the length delivery up and over covers. Denesh Ramdin swung his bat in the end to finish the innings with a flourish but it was to prove insufficient in the end.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo