The win that almost wasn't

How this game even got started, considering the amount of rain that pelted down in Kingston early this morning, might remain a mystery. That only ten overs were lost to such a downpour tells you something about the efficacy of the drainage facilities at Sabina Park, apart from, of course, the fickle weather in these parts. That West Indies made a healthy 251 and still lost tells you something about their fielding maladies, apart from, of course, India's ability to pull off a run-chase.

When the Indians awoke, they, like Brian Lara, were dead sure that there would be no game. Within a few hours, they were fielding in oppressive conditions, against a batsman fittingly named Gayle. The humidity got worse as the day wore on - only the powered robot at the Northern Stand had the energy to twist his limbs all day long - and sweat flowed, probably, stunning as it may sound, as much as the alcohol.

The climactic moments told the story. It was like watching a penalty shoot-out, with both teams making a hash of it. West Indies' big chance came when Dravid fell. India still needed 42 off 37, still had six wickets in hand, still had control. That's when Mohammad Kaif forgot where the middle of his bat was, when Dwayne Bravo forgot how to bowl yorkers, when fielders forgot to get in direct hits, when batsmen often forgot gaps. India sneaked home through a series of edges, scampered singles and nerve-jangling moments. Lara's assessment - "neither team played particularly well"- was bang on. It was, understandably, a case of who played worse.

Two factors probably settled the issue - Dravid's poise when faced with a challenge and West Indies' quite shambolic moments on the field. First to Dravid. Wonder what WG Grace, who said he would bat first irrespective of anything, would have made of seventeen successful run-chases on the trot. Dravid is no Grace. He chose to field, saw Chris Gayle, the local hero, pound his new-ball bowlers, taking 74 off the first ten, and backed off. He didn't enforce the second Power Play immediately; instead he chose to wait, spread the field, picked up a wicket, brought the field in, picked up another, and restored parity. He was no doubt helped by Ajit Agarkar sticking to the basics and Harbhajan Singh extracting some turn, the only two bowlers who didn't concede an extra on a day when bowling accuracy was almost absent.

Later, with bat in hand, Dravid was in supreme control. When the rate climbed, he found the boundaries; when it levelled off, he found the gaps. A century off 99 balls while chasing, as Greg Chappell was to later concur, must be something special. In the 22 games played before this one, ever since he was appointed full-time captain, he averaged 55.88, including one century and nine fifties. Is there a case for calling him the best current one-day batsman? Think about it.

That was what won the game; now to the part that lost it. When Virender Sehwag offered a chance in the 9th over, Fidel Edwards, the bowler, fluffed it; when Kaif offered a chance in the 22nd, Lara, at cover, let it slip through his fingers; when Kaif offered a simpler chance in the 35th, Edwards, this time at deep square leg, let it go. Fielders patrolling the boundary sometimes lost sight of the ball; sometimes midjudged the bounce; sometimes threw way over the wicketkeeper. For every accurate ball that Ian Bradshaw and Jerome Taylor bowled, there was an inaccurate fielding effort. All the good work was nullified. West Indies might have lost with only one ball to spare but on fielding alone, they were routed.