The West Indies fast bowlers - even without Fidel Edwards - embarrassed the Indian batting line-up for the second time in three weeks, setting the foundation for a series-levelling win. They bowled aggressively and smartly, reducing India to 82 for 8 before a 101-run ninth-wicket stand between MS Dhoni and RP Singh kept the match alive. Chris Gayle and Runako Morton replied with a 101-run partnership of their own, ensuring there was no late drama in a game that was mostly dominated by West Indies.
Two days ago 658 runs were scored on the same Sabina Park pitch by the same set of batsmen, but the early swing exposed some technical flaws with the Indian line-up. There were personal milestones for Ravi Rampaul and Denesh Ramdin along the way, Rampaul taking career-best figures of 4 for 37 and Ramdin five catches.
Gayle's captaincy stood out early on. He employed two slips as soon as he saw some swing. Jerome Taylor didn't need any of the slips in the first over, when he bowled the perfect outswinger to Dinesh Karthik, shaping in, pitching off, moving away, making the batsman play, and getting the edge through to the keeper.
If Karthik had no option but to play at Taylor, Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma played unnecessary shots to Rampaul in the next over. Bowling to Rohit, Rampaul wanted the second slip out, but Gayle persisted. And how it worked. Rohit chased a wide outswinger, Ramdin went too hard at the catch, but the second slip took the rebound. Seven for 3 in 1.4 overs, and there was still a long queue outside the Sabina Park.
By the time the crowd finally settled, Yuvraj Singh was promising another treat. By the end of 12 overs India seemed to have weathered the storm, only momentarily. Yuvraj had reached 35 off 32, quite a contrast to Dhoni's 11 off 31. It was all fine until then, because the partnership read 47 off 62.
But neither Gayle nor Taylor was done yet. Taylor was asked to bowl his seventh over on the trot, and he got Yuvraj with the first ball. Gayle was not going to wait for mistakes now. Back came Rampaul, in came a leg gully and a slip, and out came the open secret: the bouncers. After an edgy nine-ball stay, Yusuf Pathan edged an accurate bouncer from Dwayne Bravo. Ravindra Jadeja repeated his dismissal from the first match, pushing at a delivery away from his body. After the second slump of the innings, India stood at 70 for 6, and Dhoni looking for some support from the other end.
Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar didn't show any appreciation of the fact that there were close to 30 overs still to go, getting out to flashy shots, and soon India were 82 for 8. But Rampaul's fourth wicket came in his tenth over, a maiden, and Taylor and Bravo were nearing the completion of their quotas as well.
Dhoni took the batting Powerplay in the 23rd over, and farmed strike, even refusing singles to RP. Gayle got through the Powerplay overs without much damage, but had to opt against an all-out attack because Bravo and Taylor had only two overs each to go. He also seemed to have sensed that the pitch had eased out, and was happy to contain. Dhoni and RP, meanwhile, batted sensibly.
Dhoni wasn't in the cleanest of touches, but took charge of the rescue work. RP hung around him, and between them they brought up only the fifth 100-run stand for the ninth wicket in ODI history. RP's 23 was his personal best, and Dhoni looked set for what would have been a fifth century. But Bravo and Taylor came back well, making sure India didn't play their full quota. Dhoni was the last to go, for a responsible 95, to a perfect slower ball from Taylor in the 49th over.
If India thought they were carrying some momentum into the defence, they had another think coming. The maiden bowled at the top of the innings, by Praveen Kumar to Gayle, was a false start too. When Morton stood tall and slapped the first ball he faced for four, it confirmed that the pitch held no horrors, at least not after the first few overs in the morning.
That being the case, Gayle took a liking to the medium-pace of Ashish Nehra, RP and Praveen. In the over after that maiden, Praveen's quick reflexes saved his life: the straight pull from Gayle reached the boundary even before one could say "thank god". Gayle immediately put his hand up to apologise.
There was no sense of apology in the way he took the left-arm medium-pacers for 37 runs in their first five overs, killing the contest right there. When Gayle finally fell for a 46-ball 62, Morton had scored just 30. Morton stayed solid after his captain's fall, getting to his tenth fifty and taking West Indies home with 15.5 overs to spare.