When West Indies chased 291 with ease and won the fifth one-dayer by five wickets to take a 3-2 lead in this seven-match series, there was a sense of d j vu that was unmistakable. After winning the toss and sticking India in, the visitors watched in dismay as a breezy start was followed by a period of consolidation and a mini collapse. When their turn came, the men from the Caribbean followed almost the same formula, but with better results. Thank Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds for that.
There's a theory doing the rounds that teams with weak bowling attacks and strong batting line-ups can easily get by if they keep batting second. There's nothing in this series that has gone against that supposition. Both teams have powerful batting line-ups that can seemingly chase any score, and neither team would back their bowlers to defend a target that demanded that the opposition score at less than six runs an over.
When faced with 291 to win from 48 overs, with the each innings being reduced to that figure thanks to heavy dew on the outfield early in the morning, the West Indian openers waded into the bowlers. Javagal Srinath came in for stick, being hammered for his lack of pace. Debutant medium-pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji did worse, being decimated in a three-over spell that went for 35 runs.
The West Indies were off to a flyer. As if that were not enough, Sourav Ganguly's bowling options looked absurdly limited in the face of the two-sided scoring rhythm the openers set. Gayle threw every bit of his powerful frame at anything as much an inch outside the off stump while his partner plundered runs through the on side.
When the first wicket did come, it was too late, and thanks more to an indiscreet shot than a clever piece of bowling. On 80 (61 balls, 10 fours, 5 sixes) Hinds' top-edged sweep only found Ganguly behind the stumps off the bowling of Sehwag. By this time, West Indies were 132-1 in the 17th over.
The fall of Hinds' wicket, followed quickly by Marlon Samuels' fatal nudge to slip, spurred Gayle on to put his head down and grind the opposition for runs. Batting with panache, Gayle gave no chances, building a partnership of 83 for the third wicket with Ramnaresh Sarwan (34) before the latter gave Murali Kartik his first one-day wicket as he edged to slip.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was run out in the customary one mix-up per game and then a piece of cruel umpiring made sure that West Indies lost three wickets in space of 21 runs. After hitting Harbhajan Singh straight out of the ground with the kind of power you see in baseball rather than cricket, Gayle attempted a more delicate cut shot. Although he missed the ball by some distance, a fact corroborated by Rahul Dravid not even appealing, umpire Asoka de Silva upheld Harbhajan's polite inquiry. Gayle's 101 (107 balls, 10 fours, 3 sixes) had, though, taken West Indies to 239 and within striking distance of victory.
Ricardo Powell, with a few lusty strokes chalked up an unbeaten 30 (26 balls, 2 fours, 1 six) while skipper Carl Hooper helped himself to a run-a-ball 21 as West Indies sprinted to victory with seven balls to spare.
Earlier, India nurtured hopes of posting a 300-plus score as openers Sehwag and Ganguly got them off to a flyer. Sehwag, in particular, threatened to improve on his usual frenetic pace slamming 52 off just 39 balls with the help of nine boundaries and a six. When he fell with the score on 88 though, it was up to Ganguly to take on the role of wrecker-in-chief. The Indian captain (53) looked up to the task and notched up the 50th half-century of his prolific limted overs career before being bowled attempting to cut a straight one from Hooper.
VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid propped up the middle-order with a partnership that brought some sanity to the proceedings. While Dravid looked to innovate, even unfurling the reverse sweep, Laxman was content to use conventional methods to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Although he made a sensible 36-ball 33, Dravid fell at a crucial moment, hitting Samuels to Gayle.
The middle order stuttered ever so slightly and this was enough for the visitors to ensure that their eventual target was merely challenging, rather than daunting. Mohammad Kaif (4) and Yuvraj Singh (15) were sent packing before they could stamp their authority on the game and it took a late slog from Sanjay Bangar (27 in 21 balls) to ensure that India posted 290 from 48 overs.
But as has been the case repeatedly this series, that was simply insufficient to keep the dashers from the Caribbean at bay.