All-round Bravo floors defending champions
An under-tested India ran into a red-hot West Indies, who didn't even need a significant contribution from Chris Gayle during a tense chase. Dwayne Bravo was his usual top-dawg self today, taking four wickets to keep India down and then resurrecting the chase after a subdued Gayle had got out early, with an innings that was both aesthetic and cruel.
By the time Bravo came out to bat, India had made a smart start to their defence of a fighting 153. After Zaheer Khan went for two boundaries in the first over, MS Dhoni chose to give Gayle no pace. Three of the Powerplay overs were bowled by spinners, and two by Irfan Pathan who didn't come on to the bat either. Harbhajan Singh, especially, fast-tracked Gayle's downfall, bowling a maiden to him to finish the Powerplays. Gayle had reached 20 off 23, after which frustration got the better of him, and he top-edged Yusuf Pathan, who had done well to keep him quiet in his first two overs.
Quietly, though, No. 3 Lendl Simmons, who had earlier taken a blinder, had quietly played himself in. And just when it seemed West Indies were out of it, having got off to a slow start, Bravo changed the pace of the game. With Bravo came more intent in the running and odd boundaries that kept West Indies with the rate. His batting was a treat for the eye. He often went inside-out to the spinners, stepping out and clearing extra cover in one fluid motion.
Pragyan Ojha, who was kept back until Gayle got out, got the treatment in the ninth over, and Yusuf was late-cut just as effectively in the 10th. There was nothing frenetic about this partnership, no undue risks or big hitting, even as the required run-rate stayed around nine and 10. It was almost as if they knew something that others didn't. When Bravo drove Harbhajan over extra cover in the 12th over, followed by more good running, West Indies had reached 80, and the target looked within reach.
When Dhoni brought back his fast bowlers, it was Simmons' turn to pick up the pace, as boundaries in the next two overs kept West Indies abreast. With the second four, a vicious pull off Ishant Sharma, Simmons moved into the 40s, almost unnoticed. When Ojha got Simmons for 43 in the next over, West Indies still needed 54 off 33. But it was also the time Bravo found another gear. The next ball he lofted for a six down the ground, ensuring there was no break in the momentum. Harbhajan bowled a tight next over, after which West Indies were left needing 39 off 24.
Even that couldn't get anything rash out of Bravo, who kept hitting straight, or over extra cover. With Shivnarine Chanderpaul joining in and hitting unorthodox shots like only he can, it became a stroll towards the end. Quite fittingly, Bravo ended it with a six off Zaheer Khan, over extra cover, elbow high for the pose.
West Indies shouldn't have been chasing 154 in the first place. Like the one against Australia, even this win was originally set up by fast bowlers relishing the lively conditions. But unlike then, their bowling was backed up by solid fielding today, but for just one lapse. It was that dropped chance off Yuvraj Singh, when he was 32 off 27, that made the game close.
This time it was Jerome Taylor's opening partner, Edwards, who put West Indies ahead. The tone, though, was set by Taylor in the first over, troubling Gautam Gambhir with the bouncers. Edwards took the cue, and removed his Deccan Chargers team-mate, Rohit Sharma, with a bouncer. He troubled Suresh Raina too with the short-pitched stuff until the latter played back to a full delivery and edged it to Denesh Ramdin.
It was now time for the fielders to stand up, as Simmons took a superb running-back-and-diving catch to send Gambhir back. It was a short delivery again, the first Gambhir faced from Bravo - 29 for 3 in the fifth over.
Yuvraj and Dhoni had no choice but to consolidate. Gayle and Kieron Pollard slipped in five overs for just 20 runs. Under pressure to get going, Dhoni cut Bravo straight to sweeper-cover. Two balls later, Yuvraj picked the same fielder out, but was dropped by Andre Fletcher. India would have been 71 for 5, but for the drop. Whereupon, Yuvraj played a little gem to pull India out of all sorts of trouble, but it would stay the second-best effort of the night.
His hitting was clean, there was no need to be cute as he and Yusuf threatened to run away with the game. But Edwards finished off what he started, taking Yuvraj with a bouncer in the 18th over, after which India got only 23 off the last 14 balls.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo