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June 12, 2009
The paths India and West Indies took to reach their Super Eights clash couldn't have been more different. India, by virtue of being defending champions, were pooled with the easiest teams and they swept past Bangladesh and Ireland. West Indies, on the other hand, were not favourites to qualify from a group which included Australia and Sri Lanka. They came to Lord's after being stretched by tough opponents and gave India a reality check as to what lies ahead. As MS Dhoni pithily put it, it was one of those days when "nothing really worked".
India's plans had worked smoothly so far in the tournament. Their make-shift opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma, in the absence of Virender Sehwag, succeeded against the Ireland and Bangladesh new-ball attacks. Today they were undone by Fidel Edwards' pace and Dwayne Bravo's variations and the middle order faced its first real test of the competition. Despite Yuvraj Singh's aggressive half-century, India achieved a total that was below par.
"During the middle overs you actually play according to what you get in the first few overs," Dhoni said after the defeat. "If you lose too many wickets in the first few overs, you go for a consolidated approach and play till the 12th or the 13th over so that your lower-order batsmen can come and go after the bowlers. We had to change our plans when Yuvraj and I were batting. We wanted to play the next five or six overs without losing a wicket."
Dhoni and Yuvraj began to consolidate after India were reduced to 29 for 3. The pair took their time in the hope that they would make up for the balls consumed once they were well set and had rebuilt the innings. Yuvraj succeeded but Dhoni didn't and his dismissal, for 11 off 23 balls, set the innings back a long way.
"I got out in the 11th over and that plan got disrupted a bit," Dhoni said. "The intention was not to hit but it went straight to the fielder." Despite the hiccups, a spate of boundaries from Yuvraj, Yusuf Pathan and Harbhajan gave India a fighting chance.
The total of 153 seemed eminently defendable when India's bowlers snuffed out the threat posed by Chris Gayle. They tied him down, allowing him only 22 runs off 28 balls, and he eventually top-edged Yusuf towards short fine leg. However, as reliant as they seem on the pyrotechnics of their captain, West Indies had pushed Sri Lanka in their group match at Trent Bridge without Gayle. Bravo led the charge in that game but couldn't take his team to the top of the group. Today he saw West Indies through to the finish.
Bravo, with his footwork and penchant for the inside-out loft over extra cover, countered India's spinners. He scored 48 runs off 28 balls against Yusuf, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha, ensuring the asking-rate never got out of hand. He even prospered against Ishant Sharma, who has found rhythm operating with the older ball, scoring at a strike-rate of 183 against him.
"Bravo was milking the bowlers and he got quite a few boundaries in the middle overs," Dhoni said. "He played shots over covers and through midwicket and you can't really have fielders there. We were able to raise the required run rate close to 10 runs per over, we were good at that but he took the game away from us."
West Indies' seven-wicket victory has left India in a precarious position. They now need to win both their games against England and South Africa to qualify for the semi-finals. Coincidentally, they were in the same position against the same opponents two years against in South Africa.
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