Chris Gayle finished agonisingly short of becoming the first man to make two international Twenty20 centuries, but by the time he was run-out, he had already swiped West Indies to a total that proved too tall for India's batsmen who yet again floundered against the short ball. The defeat leaves India facing an early exit for the third straight global tournament, and the same questions about batting technique which were raised followed the elimination from last year's World Twenty20 will be asked again.
After Gayle's slaphappy innings, in which almost all his runs came on the leg side, India's top-order weren't given anything to drive by West Indies' new-ball bowlers. They faced the barrage of bouncers promised before the match, and even the short deliveries of the gentle medium-pacers Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo discomfited them initially.
The home side's fielding was also a dramatic improvement to the error-strewn show against Sri Lanka, with Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard being exceptional. India's batting slide started with an athletic forward-diving catch by Pollard at square leg to dismiss opener M Vijay, who again failed to replicate his IPL form on the more demanding tracks in the Caribbean. Gautam Gambhir was also having a tough time, and just after edging a bouncer from Kemar Roach in the fifth over between slip and the keeper, he failed to evade a scorching short ball to glove to Denesh Ramdin.
Two overs later, Rohit Sharma, the only batsman to enhance his reputation in the pasting by Australia, was controversially dismissed after the ball lobbed off his arm to the keeper. He stood his ground and asked Billy Bowden to call for the third umpire. After consultation with Simon Taufel, Bowden upheld his original decision, and India were down to 38 for 3, and the asking-rate was in double digits.
There were fitful efforts to resuscitate the chase: first by Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh, who showed glimpses of their top-class hitting in a 42- run stand, but both holed out in the space of five deliveries. MS Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, two of the quickest scorers, swung a few sixes, and with 32 needed off the final two overs, it wasn't only the most one-eyed of fans who were hoping for a win. However, Bravo's slide-rule throw from long-on ended Dhoni's stay and with it, the big crowd in Barbados knew an important win was sealed.
Unlike West Indies' effort, the Indian fielding, usually a barometer of their performance, was shoddy, spilling two chances, one of which proved extremely expensive - Dhoni and Pathan colliding into each other as they went for a skier near square leg when Gayle was on 47, after which he blasted 51 off 26 deliveries.
Gayle was just opening out when that catch went down; he had warmed up with a whip over long-on for six in the eighth over and followed it up in the next with the biggest six of the tournament, off Pathan, which bounced on the roof. He then extended Ravindra Jadeja's poor tournament by smearing his second ball, a full toss, for a flat six. Next up was Zaheer Khan, who was flicked over square leg for four, then Yusuf was clubbed down the ground so flat that the non-striker Sammy fell to the ground to take evasive action.
Then, Dhoni's gamble of giving Raina the 17th over went awry, when Gayle smacked a couple more leg-side sixes. Gayle found the roof behind midwicket again in the next over, and looked set for a century when he entered the final over on 96. However, after Bravo and Ramnaresh Sarwan were sent back by Ashish Nehra, he tried to scramble back a second on the fourth delivery, but the end of his bat bumped in the air as he dived full-length to try and make his ground, and was run-out.
He was given good support by three partners through the innings. First Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who never really hit top gear though he showed off a range of reverse-sweeps, set up the base with a steady 80-run stand. West Indies then sent in a pinch-hitter Sammy, who played an array of proper cricketing shots, the highlight of which was a chip for six over long-off, to collect 19 off 10 deliveries. Finally, Pollard showed his batting is as much about power as timing during a quick cameo.
West Indies can bask in the glow of overwhelming India, but their celebrations will be tempered by the knowledge that they are still likely to need to beat a red-hot Australia to progress to the semi-finals.