It's a strange kind of turnaround. India, who would have prayed for clear skies during the first half of the series, might have heaved a sigh of relief when the heavens opened up today. They lost the toss, got battered around Warner Park, were denied umpteen close appeals, and have had to play catch up from the start. Their best fast bowler got plastered for more than five an over, including going for 25 in one, and their momentum has been snatched away.
Munaf Patel will learn that one bad session can ruin quite a bit of the good work that's gone before. In his fifth over, Munaf joined Bob Willis and Matthew Hoggard in the list of bowlers who've been pounded for six fours in an over. His first six overs of the day went for nine an over, with Ramnaresh Sarwan, in a concerted attempt, leading the attack. "Patel seems to be someone who settles after he gets on top of you," said Sarwan about the aggressive move. "I wasn't conscious at all but just playing off instinct. I just wanted to be positive."
Patel actually helped Sarwan have his way by adopting an uncharacteristic length in his first spell. He sent down 33 good length deliveries - he normally bowls back of a length - out of 37 and he paid for it. Ironically, Sreesanth seemed to be getting the batsmen into some sort of difficulty by bowling the 'Munaf length'.
Patel came back well - conceding just 13 more in his next seven overs and adding two wickets to his tally. Harbhajan Singh would know what Patel went through, after being taken apart by Gayle yesterday. But, to his credit, he too found the tenacity to gradually claw back. And one must remember that this was a comeback game for him; as well as the fact that the featherbed didn't offer him too much assistance. "Harbhajan bowled pretty well," assessed Sarwan, "but Chris and Daren played him very well. They tried to put him off [rhythm] a bit. He bowled well in the evening. He's a bit rusty but he's going to get better."
How India must wish for Rahul Dravid to acquire powers of witchcraft to win these tosses. Ironically, in the previous two games, India might have batted first even if they'd lost the toss. Adding to their problems was the 47-year-old Test debutant from Port Elizabeth, who appeared to be facing some teething problems. Brian Jerling, who has stood in 43 one-dayers, was at the receiving end of around 17 confident appeals. He gave one, caught at the wicket, missed a pad-glove ricochet off Marlon Samuels, missed a bat-pad chance off Sarwan, and turned down around seven lbw shouts that can be termed touch-and-go.
India would argue it's more go than touch; West Indies may believe they handled the spinners well. "We stressed on Anil [Kumble] because he's been bowling for lbws and don't want to give him those decisions," said Sarwan about their strategy to get forward while playing spin. "We've decided to open our stance a bit and get our foot out of the way. We thought it's better to keep the ball in front of us rather than getting our front foot in the way."
Yet, Jerling's not-out-ability cannot be overlooked. It's one thing to say that batsmen cannot be given out while pushing forward, but that's a tenet that's dependent on both the pitch and the bowler. If you decide to completely rule out the possibility of an lbw with a Kumble straighter ball when the batsmen are hiding their bats behind their pads, then you're immediately negating his chief weapon. In his defence, though, is the fact that he might never have stood to a spinner of Kumble's quality earlier. Like Patel, he too will learn.