Ramesh Powar led a disciplined bowling performance on a slow and low pitch to steer India to a thrilling 20-run victory at Cuttack. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for the second consecutive game, donned the role of the surrogate skipper on a burning deck and was the last man out. Set to chase 190 on a spin-friendly track, Chanderpaul stitched together two gritty partnerships - 43 for the fourth wicket with Dwayne Bravo and 50 for the sixth wicket with Dwayne Smith - which were, ultimately, in vain.
Earlier in the day, India, tottering at 90 for 7, rallied through a gem of a knock from Dinesh Karthik - who was involved in a gritty 62-run partnership with Ajit Agarkar - to muster a fighting total. Daren Powell starred with a career-best effort as West Indies capitalised on a slow pitch, offering variable bounce, to restrict India to 189. Powell judged the track perfectly, kept it full and let the demons on the track do the rest. The top-order batsmen, still in their flamboyant Nagpur mode, contributed to their own demise by playing shots - loose drives off the front foot, flicks across the line - that were inappropriate in these conditions.
Ganguly perished, playing too early, and that opened the floodgates. Enter Powell. Introduced in the ninth over he was quick to realise there was no point in hitting the deck and bowling short. Instead, he almost floated his deliveries across, making them skid. He didn't offer the batsmen the length, line or width to force him away, but keeping it up and testing their patience.
Karthik, who produced an admirably intelligent knock that got him the Man of the Match award and could well seal him a World Cup berth, was the only Indian batsman, apart from Rahul Dravid, who played according to the demands of the pitch. He was cautious and looked to play with the full face of the bat; he looked to get forward, didn't plant his front foot across and played as close to the body as possible. Most of his shots were neat deflections and crisp caressed pushes rather than loose drives but loose deliveries were pounced on. Thirty nine runs came from the on side and 24 on the off but that doesn't represent the true picture. It was not as if he was playing across the line, just that he pounced when the loose deliveries came down the legside. By the time he fell, trying to late cut, he'd built a valuable partnership with Agarkar.
Agarkar, who usually can't resist driving through the line, played an immensely responsible hand. He nudged, flicked, tapped and dabbed his way initially. And when the bowlers were tired, as the innings came to the end, he started to unleash himself. Powell had finished his quota by the time Agarkar came to bat and he looted 31 runs in 34 balls from Dwayne Bravo and Dwayne Smith.
However, most of the other batsmen were a big disappointment. Especially Sachin Tendulkar. When caution was the need of the hour he played a loose drive. Again a touch early into the shot, he couldn't control the direction and was swallowed at mid-on. Dravid appeared to have adapted to the vagaries of the track when he fell playing around a fullish slower delivery. Mahendra Singh Dhoni perished playing too early and across the line and then Joginder Sharma - replacing the rested Sreesanth - wasted a great opportunity by going for an on-the-up drive. Powar too threw away the chance to showcase his all-round skills with a loose drive but he was to leave his stamp on the game. And how.
At the half-way mark of the chase, West Indies required 110 runs with Chanderpaul and Bravo still at the crease. It was even-stevens then but the game swung on its head in the 27th over when Powar inflicted a double blow with some sensational offspin bowling. He removed the dangerous Bravo with a lovely flighted delivery that induced a fatal push to short-leg and then produced a peach of a delivery to get rid of a stunned Runako Morton. It was beautifully set up. The first ball was floater that drifted outside off stump and didn't turn much. Morton shouldered arms. The next delivery floated seemingly way outside the offstump, dipped, gripped the surface and broke back in sharply. Morton froze, prodded half-forward, didn't offer a stroke and looked on in horror as the off stump was pegged back. But Chanderpaul continued to fight and the game hurtled towards a thrilling finale.
Smith took up the Bravo role, swinging Powar imperiously for two sixes and punching a slightly erratic Tendulkar for fours. Chanderpaul continued picking singles and rotating the strike, and in the process reached his half century almost unnoticed as West Indies homed in on the target. The partnership had grown to 50 when Smith threw his wicket away. He shoveled a short delivery from Tendulkar straight into deep midwicket's palms and with just 41 runs left, Denesh Ramdin self-destructed by running down the track and was beaten in flight as he tried an ugly heave. Considering it was Powar's last ball in the match, it was totally uncalled for. Still the game was far from over.
Chanderpaul, wisely, played out Harbhajan Singh when he returned in the 43rd over for his last over. With Ian Bradshaw blocking at the other end, 12 more runs came and only 27 runs stood between West Indies and a win. Tendulkar broke through, prising out Bradshaw in the 46th over. 27 runs from 24 balls. The game was hanging on a knife's edge when India cut through, four balls later, with a run out. And soon it was all over when Chanderpaul perished slogging.
India had seized the initiative early when Agarkar prised out the much-prized wicket of Chris Gayle, a well-settled Devon Smith was run out and Harbhajan Singh beat Marlon Samuels in flight as West Indies suffered an early wobble. With Brian Lara missing out due to injury, the burden of hiding a brittle middle order was obviously on Gayle and Chanderpaul. With Gayle's exit, the pressure of taking West Indies home fell on Chanderpaul and he responded by dropping anchor. Though he performed that task admirably, in retrospect, he probably erred in not forcing the pace till it was too late.